Ending the piecemeal application of a regulation forcing boaters to drain water from their boats to slow the spread of zebra mussels across Texas, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted Thursday to make it a statewide requirement, beginning July 1.
The regulation impacts fishing, pleasure boats and jet skis, as well non-power vessels such as sailboats, kayaks and canoes.
“Zebra mussels have been moving steadily deeper into Texas since they were first found in Lake Texoma in 2009,” said Brian Van Zee, TPWD’s Inland Fisheries Division regional director who has spearheaded the agency’s response to zebra mussels in Texas. “Now that they are in Lake Belton, the Highland Lakes are in the crosshairs, as are many of the public waters in Central Texas.”
The regulation was already in place in 47 counties within the Trinity and Brazos river drainages where signs of the invasive mussels have been found.
Zebra mussels were first brought to the United States in the 1980s by European ships’ discharge of ballast water in the Great Lakes. They have been spreading southward since.
They pose several threats to industry, water supplies, lakeside property owners and even local fisheries.
According to experts, financially the biggest concern with zebra mussels is that they become attached to water intake pipes. In a case, for example, like Lake Palestine, the mussels could clog pipes and shut down water delivery to Tyler residents.
In northern states, where industries often pull water directly from rivers and lakes, they also have clogged their pipes.
Another issue is that the mussels will attach to boats, making them less fuel efficient, and to pier pilings, making them dangerous for those who have been swimming and attempt to exit the lake.
The zebra mussels could also reduce sport fish quality if their numbers grow to the point they reduce nutrients in a lake.
Because of water quality, eastern Texas lakes may be spared large-scale zebra mussel invasions. East Texas lake water typically has a lower alkalinity level than the mussels have shown the ability to thrive in. However, water quality varies from west to east and lakes, such as Fork, Tawakoni and Palestine, are on the edge of the higher risk zone.
Public boating has been identified as the most likely method of the mussels being moved from one lake to another.
According to a TPWD announcement of the regulation, boaters will be required to drain live wells, bilges, motors, and any other receptacles or water-intake systems coming into contact with public waters before leaving a lake or river.
Fish and personally caught live bait cannot be transported in a boat in water that comes from the lake where they were caught. This will require fishermen wanting to keep fish to possibly bring a cooler to transport fish home.
Fishermen may buy live bait from bait houses and marinas off the lake but may only leave the lake with the bait if they have a receipt showing where it was purchased. According to the agency, any live bait purchased from a location on or adjacent to a public water body that is transported in water from that water body could only be used as bait on that same water body.
The regulation does take into account bass tournaments and others who might trailer from ramp to ramp on a single lake for a single day. Those boaters would not be required to drain water each time. They would, however, have to before leaving the lake from their final stop.
Tournament fishermen also would be allowed to trailer to an off-lake weigh-in site, but only with a letter of authorization from tournament officials. The boat would have to be drained before leaving the weigh-in site.
Although the regulation doesn’t go into effect until July, TPWD is asking boaters to voluntarily start early to prevent microscopic larvae from being moved from one lake to another and causing an infestation.