Boating Checkpoints

Published in the August 2012 Issue August 2012 Ask The Expert

Trust me when I say that PDB editor Brady Kay is glad he told me via email instead of face-to-face that I was taking over this column. I doubt he would have appreciated being sprayed down with a mouthful of Rockstar. I was so excited to be taking over this wonderful legacy that I couldn't swallow. Seriously. Later that same day when I did see Brady, he asked me what I wanted to write about. I told him I wanted to do some investigative reporting to see if any of the Real Housewives own a pontoon or deck boat. To which he replied that I needed some more time to think about it. Sigh. But after giving it some more thought, I decided to jump into the invasive aquatic species, specifically zebra and quagga mussel, debate.

At first I didn't even realize it was a debate. My husband is the kind of guy who would happily report a trailered boat that passes a checkpoint station without stopping. He is extremely concerned with maintaining the natural ecosystem of our home state and would hate to see his favorite fishing holes ruined by one careless person. People with the opposing viewpoint feel as if these checkpoints violate our fourth amendment right, which protects us all from illegal search and seizure.

"Checkpoints help as well as lakeside inspections and citizen inspections of their own boats and gear," said Dr. Rochelle Sturtevant, Ph.D. in systems ecology and regional sea grant specialist with NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. "Wisconsin and Minnesota Sea Grant have data from their inspection programs that clearly shows that the rate of spread to inland lakes within those states has slowed since inspections started.

In a perfect world, I think we could all agree, we would trust each other to keep boats clean and not transport these aquatic nuisances. But the sad reality is one contaminated boat, one person who doesn't care, can push a lake past the point of no return.

"Under the right circumstances, a single gravid female is sufficient to start a population, so it could be done by a single introduction, a single contaminated boat," added Dr. Sturtevant. "The more times an infested boat gets in, the more likely that one of those will carry the mussel that successfully invades."

Over 20 years ago, non-native zebra mussels were discovered for the first time in North America in Lake St. Clair as the result of Eurasia cargo ships. When fuel is used and cargo is unloaded, a ship becomes lighter and floats higher in the water. To stabilize the ship, water must be taken onboard as ballast, which unfortunately means animals, plants and pathogens that happen to be nearby are transported from port to port. Each year about 21 billion gallons of ballast water is introduced into U.S. water. From that point, recreational boaters and fisherman who don't clean their boats correctly or reuse live bait transport organisms from place to place.

Zebra and quagga mussels move by clinging onto boats, trailers and other aquatic equipment. Both juvenile and adult mussels can attach to boat hulls, engines, anchors, and other submerged equipment. Plant remnants that get caught can be carriers as well. In their microscopic juvenile stage, these mussels can also be accidentally stored away in boat bilge water, live wells, bait buckets and other gear.

Now why are they a problem? Quagga and zebra mussel invasions have had catastrophic impacts in the ecosystems where they have been able to establish. They have an incredibly rapid reproductive growth rate and zero natural predators in North America. The mussels are low in fat and their shell has absolutely no nutritional value, causing fish to expend vital energy breaking up and digesting the mussel. Both zebra and quagga mussels consume hefty portions of the microscopic plants and animals that make up the bottom of the food chain. By removing most of the food for microscopic zooplankton, which support juvenile fish, these species can effectively starve the native populations of infested lakes and rivers. As a result, fish stocks and conditions will decline.

"Despite our best efforts, 25 years post introduction, dreissenid mussels have established populations from Massachusetts to California and Ontario to Baja, California," said Dr. Sturtevant. That being said, the current populations are isolated so spreading to all states is NOT the same as spreading to all waters of those states."

If taking care of the environment isn't enough, there are other reasons to be diligent about keeping a clean vessel. Boats are affected when the mussels start colonizing on the bottom and the outboard. These settlements will increase drag, affect boat steering and clog engines which will eventually lead to overheating.

By taking a few protective steps after boating, people prevent the spread of non-native mussels.

Inspect boat and trailer carefully for mussels and aquatic vegetation and immediately throw them in the trash.

Drain all water from the boat, including the bilge, livewell and engine cooling system.

Dry the boat and trailer in the sun for at least five days, or if you use your boat sooner, rinse off the boat, trailer, anchor, anchor line, bumpers, and engine with hot water or at a car wash. Adult mussels are very hardy and can survive out of water depending upon temperature and humidity.

Leave live aquatic bait behind-either by giving it to someone using the same body of water or throw it away.

Don't think of checkpoint stations as a violation of your amendment rights. Consider it a friendly safeguard that will protect our waters for the generations to come.

There are no known ways to completely eliminate zebra or quagga mussels without severely damaging the ecosystem. Public assistance in preventing the spread of highly invasive species and reporting new infestations is necessary to help reduce the negative side effects that we all have to deal with. Once established, zebra and quagga mussel populations are very costly to control. So do this fellow taxpayer a favor and clean your boat and equipment. For more information, visit where you read all about the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and their research on invasive aquatic species.

That's all I have for you this month, unless any of you see Ms. NeNe Leakes or any of her Real Housewives of Atlanta co-stars cruising by on a pontoon. If that's the case, snap a picture and email it to me ASAP. Please.


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