The upcoming holiday weekend offers numerous opportunities for Texans to enjoy the summer sun and water during the heart of boating season.
Now more than ever, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is urging boaters to do their part to fight back against aquatic invasive species that threaten Texas lakes.
“The July 4th holiday is an exciting time of year for boating in Texas, and while we want everyone to have a great time, we also want them to avoid giving free rides to invasive species and helping them travel to new lakes,” said Brian Van Zee, TPWD Inland Fisheries Regional Director. “The best way to prevent the spread of many destructive aquatic invasive species is to clean, drain and dry your boats and equipment – every time.”
Zebra mussels and giant salvinia continue to spread to new areas in Texas. Yet while they remain some of the biggest threats to Texas lakes, other highly invasive species can also be spread by boaters, including water hyacinth, crested floating heart and quagga mussels.
Zebra and quagga mussels, non-native shellfish that attach to hard surfaces, pose a significant threat to our lakes. These invasive mussels damage boats and infrastructure for water supply and control, alter lake ecosystems and cause harm to native species. They also litter shorelines with hazardous, sharp shells that impact lakefront recreation.
Zebra mussels are found in 33 Texas lakes across six river basins, as well as in river reaches downstream of infested lakes. Quagga mussels, a close relative of zebra mussels, have also been detected in Lake Amistad. The TPWD and partners monitor numerous at-risk lakes around the state for early detection of these invasive mussels, but once they’ve been introduced and become established in a lake, nothing can be done to control or eradicate them.
“Invasive mussels can be attached to boats or even carried by anchors or attached to plants clinging to boats,” said Monica McGarrity, TPWD Senior Scientist for Aquatic Invasive Species Management. “Microscopic invasive mussel larvae can be transported in residual water in the boat. Taking just a few minutes to clean, drain, and dry boats can make a huge difference in our efforts to prevent further spread of this highly damaging species and harm to Texas lakes. Boats with attached mussels need to be properly decontaminated before moving them to a new lake.”
Giant salvinia, a highly invasive, free-floating aquatic fern that can double its coverage area in a week, is one of the major threats to our lakes. The invasive plant can produce thick surface mats that make fishing, boating, swimming and other water recreation nearly impossible.
Giant salvinia is currently present on 23 East Texas lakes and numerous rivers, creeks and marshes between Houston and Beaumont. While TPWD efforts have kept giant salvinia from currently limiting angling or boating access in Texas public waters, they could still hitchhike from one lake to another on a boat, trailer or other equipment.
“Many Texans will spend the Fourth of July holiday boating on one of Texas’ numerous lakes or rivers” said John Findeisen, TPWD Brookeland Aquatic Habitat Enhancement Team Lead. “We need Texans to take action to help protect their lakes. It only takes a tiny fragment of an invasive plant to create a new infestation and preventing aquatic invasive species introductions avoids costly, long-term efforts to manage these species once they infest a lake.”
Boaters need to remove all plants, mud and debris from boats, trailers, vehicles and gear and drain all water from the boat, equipment and on-board receptacles before leaving the lake. In addition, boats should be dried completely before visiting another lake, preferably for at least a week. If drying isn’t possible, washing the boat and compartments using high-pressure water from a carwash or spray nozzle on a water hose before visiting another lake can help reduce the risk of spreading aquatic invasive species.
If you have stored your boat in the water at a lake with invasive mussels, it is likely infested and poses an extremely high risk for moving these invasive species to a new lake. Before moving your boat, call TPWD at (512) 389-4848 for guidance on decontamination.
On top of the harm aquatic invasive species can cause to aquatic ecosystems, water infrastructure, and the recreational experience at lakes, the transport of these organisms can result in legal trouble for boaters. Transporting prohibited aquatic invasive species in Texas is illegal and punishable with a fine of up to $500 per violation. It’s also the law that boaters must drain all water from their boat and onboard receptacles, including bait buckets, before leaving or approaching a body of fresh water and remove all invasive plants from the boat, trailer, and tow vehicle before leaving a lake.
For more information on how to properly clean, drain and dry boats and equipment, visit the TPWD YouTube channel for a short instructional video. To learn more about giant salvinia, zebra mussels and other invasive species in Texas, visit tpwd.texas.gov/StopInvasives.