Zebra Mussels Found on Boat from Chicago

Mussel-fouled boat slipped through two Montana inspection stations before detection in Ravalli

By Tristan Scott
A boat is cleaned at an FWP watercraft inspection station in Ravalli. Beacon File Photo

A mussel-fouled boat from Chicago slipped through two Montana inspection stations before officials with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) seized it in Ravalli, quarantining and decontaminating the vessel.

An inspection conducted by Lacey Burke, Mitch Parker and JaBlue Arlee found adult zebra mussels attached to the vessel, which hailed from mussel-infested waters and had been out of the water for less than two weeks.

The Chicago boat was bound for Seattle and stopped at watercraft inspection stations in Wibaux and Anaconda, where the mussels evaded detection. Montana aquatic invasive species (AIS) protocol requires a contaminated vessel to be quarantined and decontaminated with hot water to remove and kill invasive species prior to being released from an AIS check station.

It is illegal to transport mussels, dead or alive, into or within the state of Montana.

According to officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), the boat is the second mussel-infested vessel that has been seized at the Ravalli AIS check station this year and is the 15th mussel-fouled boat intercepted in Montana.

FWP and partner organizations operate watercraft inspections across the state to prevent the transport of aquatic invasive species. Stations increasingly are operated through contract with local entities to provide increased local oversight and local community involvement.

The watercraft inspection station at Ravalli is a partnership between CSKT and FWP and has been very successful operating the inspection station this year.

As preparations are made for the 2020 season FWP and partners are working together to identify strategies to increase oversight, management and enforcement at inspection stations to ensure boats like this are not missed in the future.

Both locally and statewide, efforts to reduce the risk of aquatic invasive species spreading through Montana’s water bodies have been stepped up in response to the positive detection in 2016 of invasive mussel larvae east of the Continental Divide in Tiber Reservoir, as well as their suspected presence in Canyon Ferry Reservoir and the Missouri River near Townsend.

So far, the traces of contamination are restricted to the Missouri River Basin, but the likelihood persists of mussels hitchhiking on the hulls of boats or in bilge water or cloistered away in irrigation equipment. The threat of mussel infestation hits especially close to home for those working to protect the waters of Flathead Lake and its surrounding network of rivers and creeks, and it comes to rest at the doorstep of the Columbia River Basin — the only major watershed in the West still believed to be free of quagga and zebra mussels.

Mussels have detrimental impacts on recreation and infrastructure when they attach to underwater surfaces, where they breed rapidly — an adult female zebra mussel can release a million eggs each year. Flathead Lake is one of the largest and cleanest freshwater lakes in the country, and boaters can help keep it that way by taking care to ensure their watercrafts are clean, drained and dry.

For more information, visit http://csktnomussels.org or www.cleandraindrymt.com.

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