Mussel-fouled Boat in Montana Detected on the Blackfeet Reservation

Tribe intercepts boat from Great Lakes area headed for Flathead Lake

By Tristan Scott
Watercraft decontamination demonstrations at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on April 27, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

A mussel-fouled boat was detected on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation on May 21 after inspectors found traces of the potentially devastating invasive species on a boat headed for Flathead Lake.

According to the Flathead Basin Commission, the boat came from Michigan, where invasive mussels have wreaked havoc on lakes. It was the first mussel-bearing boat to be intercepted in Montana this year.

Two other mussel-encrusted boats were detected in eastern Montana over Memorial Day weekend — one arriving from the Great Lakes area that was intercepted at the watercraft inspection station in Wibaux on May 26, and another that failed to stop at the Hardin inspection station on May 27 and was subsequently stopped by Montana Highway Patrol and ordered to return to the station.

On the Blackfeet Reservation on May 21, newly trained inspectors at the Seville Aquatic Invasive Species Watercraft Inspection Station detected byssal threads associated with invasive mussel attachment near an intake on the boat. Invasive mussels use their byssal thread to attach to boats and can hitch a ride to mussel-free water bodies.

Jay Monroe, the Blackfeet Nation AIS Program Manager who trained the new inspectors, along with staff from the Flathead Basin Commission, said, “we don’t see boat props covered with hundreds of mussels much anymore. Instead, inspectors are more like detectives searching for small signs of mussel infestation, like byssal threads.”

Dona Rutherford, Director of the Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Department, noted that the inspectors must be vigilant in order to detect mussel-fouled boats.

“It is concerning that a perimeter station did not detect and decontaminate this boat before it reached the borders of the Blackfeet reservation,” Rutherford said.

The fouled boat was on its way to Flathead Lake, and it was decontaminated with the assistance of the Whitefish Lake Institute (WLI).

WLI confirmed the byssal threads, and found a zebra mussel shell in one of the compartments.

The owner also voluntarily agreed to forego launching the boat for a month to ensure that the boat would pose no risk to local waters.

“Kudos to the inspectors for their diligence,” said Caryn Miske, executive director of the Flathead Basin Commission. The Blackfeet and the FBC partnered in 2015 to bolster AIS prevention efforts in the region.

“We in the Flathead are very fortunate to have the Blackfeet protecting our northeastern flank since this is not the first mussel fouled boat bound for the Flathead that the Tribe has intercepted,” Miske said.

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