Hitchhiker Stopped at Local Gas Station
ATHENS—Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries biologist Robert J. Mauk of Wichita Falls tells how a routine refueling stop at a gas station turned into something quite out of the ordinary.
“Recently, I had a new experience that I had hoped never to have and hope I never have again. I’ve discussed and written articles about the importance of cleaning, draining and drying your watercraft when removing it from the water, especially when taking it to a different water body, to insure that you are not spreading invasive species. In my 16 years as a TPWD biologist for the Wichita Falls area, I have come in contact with invasive species that are illegal to possess, such as applesnails and giant salvinia. Both were in private waters, and the owners had to eradicate them.
“This leads me to a recent event. The staff and I were heading to a lake to collect largemouth bass to stock into the new Maplewood Pond. We stopped at a local gas station to fill up, and I noticed a large boat parked in the lot missing most of its identification such as up-to-date plates, boat registration and numbers. The stern was a mess, obviously having not been cleaned since being in the water. The technicians and I discussed that if there was ever a boat that could be transporting invasives, this was the one. The owner was nowhere to be seen, so I went over to the stern of the boat to have a look. The first thing I saw was small triangular shells indicative of zebra mussels covering the back of the boat. I immediately contacted the game wardens so they could handle the situation.
“Upon arrival, the game warden obtained pertinent information from the driver, who was transporting the boat to Pueblo, Colorado, for the boat’s owner. While the game warden discussed the situation with the driver, we tried to positively identify the mussel species. We had to return to our office with samples of the shells to examine them under a dissecting scope. It took a long time and many phone calls and text messages to experts in mussel identification before the mussel was identified as a dark false mussel. This is a brackish water mussel originally found along the Gulf coast that is nearly identical in appearance to the zebra mussel. The only way to tell it apart is by opening the mussel and looking at the beak of the shell.
“Even though it was not a zebra mussel, it is a species that could cause significant problems if it became established in brackish waters such as the Brazos and Red River basins. While the dark false mussel is native to the Texas Gulf coast, it is considered an exotic species in Colorado where the boat was being towed, so officials there were very interested in knowing it was coming to their state. They required the driver to meet them for a boat inspection as soon as he arrived in Colorado. We required the driver to clean the boat before resuming his trip.
“The situation could have easily been avoided had the boat owner followed a few basic rules that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has been recommending:
- Inspect the boat and trailer and remove any mussels, vegetation or foreign objects.
- Drain all water from the boat including such things as the engine, bilge, ballast, livewells and bait buckets before leaving the lake.
- Open all compartments and livewells and allow the boat and trailer to dry before entering another water body. To determine how long to allow the boat to dry before using it at a new lake, go to http://www.100thmeridian.org/emersion.asp and click your location on the map and the month. The length of drying time depends on the temperature and humidity.
- If you can’t dry your boat and leave it out of the water for a week or more, you should wash it at a commercial carwash using high pressure and hot (>140°F) soapy water. The hot water will kill zebra mussels, and when the water from the carwash goes through a wastewater treatment plant, the process should kill any remaining mussels. Also, flush the motor for five minutes with the motor running and be sure to pay special attention to small crevices and other hidden areas.”
Zebra mussels have been found in Lakes Texoma and Ray Roberts. It is extremely important that boaters be vigilant and take the necessary precautions to insure they are not responsible for their spread. The possession or transportation of invasive species in the state of Texas is illegal. Trailers, boats, motors and anything else that has been in contact with Texoma or Ray Roberts water should be thoroughly cleaned and inspected.
Boats that have been stored or kept at a marina on infested waters for an extended period of time should be professionally cleaned before launching in another body of water. Because invasive species are so detrimental, it is a good idea for all boaters to thoroughly wash and dry their vessels any time they go from one lake to another, regardless if that lake is known to be infested or not.
If you have any questions, please call the Wichita Falls Inland Fisheries Office at (940) 766-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Boaters and anglers can also help by reporting sightings of suspected zebra mussels to the Operation Game Thief toll-free hotline at (800) 792-4263.