Public Enemy

Published on Thursday, 1 May 2014 01:02 - Written by Steve Knight, Outdoor Writer

Years ago it was said if you didn’t have fire ants just wait awhile and you would.

The same was said about wild pigs, and they came.

The next scourge facing Texans is zebra mussels. They have slowly made their way south from the Great Lakes into the state. It isn’t expected to take that long before they are found throughout much of the state.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has been fairly proactive trying to prevent the zebra mussels from spreading. It already requires boats in 47 North and Central Texas counties to drain the water from their boats before leaving the lake or riverside. That includes water in live wells, motors and even live bait containers.

But those are counties where signs of the mussels have already appeared. Now the department wants to take the regulation statewide. It currently is accepting public comment on the proposal. TPW commissioners are expected to vote on it at their May 22 meeting. If approved it would go into effect as soon as July.

“We were doing this incrementally, but there was some concern among the commissioners and others about confusion,” said Ken Kurzawski, TPWD Fisheries Director for Information and Regulations. “They want to do the best we can to slow (the spread) down, and there is interest in going statewide. There certainly is the possibility for them to move to other lakes and boaters are moving all over the state.”

Kurzawski said department biologists realize that regulations alone won’t stop the spread of zebra mussels, but their leap from the Trinity River system in North Texas to the Brazos River system in Central Texas last year shows the impact boating can have in speeding the invasion.

For the most part the first two calls for restrictions on boaters have been met with ho-hum interest. Part of that is probably because the mussels have not created the problems here they have in states that have been invested longer. There the mussels have created industrial problems as well as issues for recreational boaters and fishermen.

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 shutdown water delivery to Tyler residents.

Less serious of an issue is that the mussels will attach to boats, making them even less fuel efficient, and to pier pilings, making them dangerous for those who have been swimming and attempt to exit the lake.

For fishermen the least of their worries is that the mussels are going to cause frayed line. A bigger issue, however, is that they could reduce fishing quality.

“The mussels are at the bottom level of the food chain and if you look at the populations they can build to, they can take a lot of nutrients out of the food chain,” Kurzawski said.

An exploding population of mussels could reduce nutrients in a lake which would affect forage fish populations and could thus reduce sport fish quality.

On the other hand, biologists said it also could result in clearer water, which would encourage vegetation growth and increase bass numbers, but at the cost of the big fish segment of the population.

There is some question as to how well the mussels would do in East Texas lakes because of their lower alkalinity levels. While it is believed populations could exist in any of the lakes, lakes more to the east and southeast are considered lower risk than those more to the west. Biologists said lakes like Fork, Tawakoni and Palestine butt up to the edge of the higher risk zone.

The proposed 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 before leaving the lake from their final stop.

Tournament fishermen would also 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.

With the existing regulations in the 47 counties phased in just last December and March, Kurzawski said it is hard to determine the compliance rate. However, department biologists and game wardens are planning to increase public awareness with a presence at ramps this summer.

The public may comment on the statewide proposal by writing to: Ken Kurzawski, TPWD Inland Fisheries, 4200 Smith School Rd., Austin, TX 78744, or by email at ken.kurzawski@tpwd.texas.gov.

Public comment is also being taken online athttp://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/feedback/public_comment/ .

For a list of counties currently under the water draining regulations go to http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/regulations/outdoor-annual/fishing/general-rules-regulations/possession-and-transport-of-exotic-aquatic-species .

 

Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at outdoor@tylerpaper.com. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.