Mussel-fouled Boat Intercepted En Route to Kalispell

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said the boat was traveling from Lake Erie and is the 50th mussel-fouled vessel detected this year

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

A partnership between the McCone Conservation District and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to combat the spread of aquatic invasive species paid off last week when inspectors along Montana’s Hi-Line intercepted a mussel-fouled boat traveling from Lake Erie to Kalispell.

The detection occurred Aug. 26 when watercraft inspectors at the Nashua station, located on U.S. Highway 2, inspected an outboard motorboat with mussels on the transducer, gimbal and other areas of the transom. The motorboat is the 50th mussel-fouled vessel intercepted in the state this year, surpassing the total number of 35 mussel-fouled boats intercepted in 2020.

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

Statewide, 94,800 watercraft inspections have been conducted this year, slightly down from the 112,300 inspections conducted at this time last year.

The Nashua watercraft inspection station is operated by the McCone Conservation District under a contract with FWP. Boats transporting invasive mussels from the Great Lakes region have been a concern since the 1980s, when Zebra mussels were first discovered there. The first documented infestation west of the Rockies came in 2007, in Lake Mead in Nevada, with the detection of quagga mussels.

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.

FWP reminds anyone transporting motorized or non-motorized boats into Montana that an inspection is required before launching, and stopping at all open watercraft inspection stations is required. Failing to stop at an inspection station can result in a fine of up to $500. 

Boaters should ensure their watercraft, trailer and all equipment that is in contact with water (anchor, lines, swim ladder, etc.) is clean, drained of water and dry. 

Learn more at CleanDrainDryMT.com or call FWP Aquatic Invasive Species Bureau at (406) 444-2440.

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