AUSTIN – Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner and that means Texans will be heading out to the water for holiday celebrations. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) urges boaters and paddlers who enjoy water recreation to do their part to protect the Texas lakes we love from aquatic invasive species.
“Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kick-off to boating season 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 harmful 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. While they remain some of the biggest threats to Texas lakes, other highly invasive species can also be spread or be introduced by boaters, including water hyacinth, crested floating heart and quagga mussels.
“There’s no doubt that Texans love their lakes, but we also need Texans to take action to help protect them,” said John Findeisen, TPWD aquatic habitat enhancement team lead. “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. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure–it only takes a small amount of our time as responsible boaters to clean, drain, and dry our boats and equipment to prevent new introductions of aquatic invasive species.”
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 27 East Texas lakes and numerous rivers, creeks and marshes between Houston and Beaumont. While TPWD efforts have kept giant salvinia from 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.
Zebra mussels, a non-native shellfish that attaches to hard surfaces, also 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 now found in 36 Texas lakes across seven river basins, as well as in river reaches downstream of infested lakes. The TPWD and partners monitor numerous at-risk lakes around the state for early detection of zebra and closely related quagga mussels, but once they’ve been introduced and become established in a lake, nothing can be done to control or eradicate them.
“Zebra mussels and quagga 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. “Microscopic zebra 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.”
TPWD urges boaters to follow these three simple but crucial steps to clean, drain and dry boats and gear before traveling from lake to lake. Remove plants, mud and debris. Drain all water from the boat and gear. Once back home, open compartments and allow everything to dry completely for at least a week, if possible.
If a boat has been stored in the water at a lake with invasive mussels, it is likely infested and poses an extremely high risk for transporting these invasive species to a new lake. Before moving the boat, call TPWD at (512) 389-4848 for guidance.
In addition to the harm 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. They must also remove all invasive plants from the boat and trailer before leaving a lake.
For more information on how to properly clean, drain and dry boats and equipment, visit the TPWD YouTube channel for short instructional video. To learn more about zebra mussels and other invasive species in Texas, visit tpwd.texas.gov/StopInvasives.
TPWD and partners monitor for invasive species in Texas lakes, but anyone who spots them on boats, trailers or equipment that is being moved can help prevent new introductions by reporting the sighting to TPWD at (512) 389-4848. Anyone who finds invasive species such as zebra mussels in lakes where they haven’t been found before can help identify new introductions by emailing photos and location information to firstname.lastname@example.org.