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Zebra Mussels...

A case for new boat regulations?

By John S.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Maryland for some bass fishing. When I arrived I was surprised to see Zebra Mussel warnings on the wooded path to the lake. I hadn't realized these invasive clams had made it so far south from their starting point  in the Great Lakes. Being subjected to regulations regarding my own boating habits in NY, I wondered how Maryland  was handling the crisis beyond these signs. I soon found out.

While fishing, several boats passed with their outboards up and using their trolling motors for propulsion. I turned to my friend and asked if the boats had to go through any type of Zebra Mussel prevention.  He shrugged and said "you are supposed to wash your boat after each use". In other words, the politicians are aware of the looming problem and haven't really decided what to do yet.

In my part of NY,  most local fishing spots are rowboat only.   NYDEC rules prevent anyone from placing a boat on the water without being steam cleaned. A boat is then designated to an area and may not be moved to another lake without another steam cleaning.  These rules came about to  specifically prevent Zebra Mussel infestation in the drinking water supply.

Although these rules will probably work for reservoirs throughout NY, they leave  the rest of NY's lakes in danger. For example, I can take my motorboat from one lake to the next and even into Connecticut lakes without any restrictions or precautions.

I'm not the type who advocates restrictions or more laws, but watching these creatures spread 1,000's of miles via the Great Lakes in a mere 11 years begs for something beyond telling boaters to wash up after they are done.  Especially when the costs are so high.

In the Great Lakes, the cost to "co-exist" with Zebra Mussels has been estimated at half a billion  with yearly clean-ups costing $50-$100 million annually. It's a whole new industry that jeopardizes the multi billion dollar fishing and recreational  industry.  Eventually, Mexico will probably succumb to infestations as well. Fortunately things are being done about the Zebra Mussel's expansion.

Recently President Clinton authorized an additional $28 million to study the best approach for fighting invasive species like the Zebra Mussel. However, most government groups and scientists agree that the Zebra mussel cannot be eradicated once it is introduced into a waterway. Their best hope is to slow the spread and look to the future for better technology.  I have a few suggestions for them to think about while they are studying the problem:

  • Require all new/used boat merchants to provide buyers a Zebra Mussel prevention booklet no matter where they plan to use the boat or where they buy it (Private Sales excluded).

  • Require state governments to provide registered boat owners and fishing license holders with a similar single topic booklet every year or with registration renewals.

  • Require boats shows in public facilities to provide the same booklets to every entrant as well as requiring merchants who deal in water related items to carry these booklets and hand them out with every sale.

  • Require boater safety courses to cover proper cleaning methods and booklets.

  • Require every school in the US to teach students how to properly clean a vessel to prevent spreading. (Maybe they can add that in after the "how to" class in prophylactics )

  • Creation of a nationwide database of boats residing in infected lakes or having been on an infected waterway within the past week.

  • Require all marinas and publicly owned docks on infected waters to have cleaning equipment  available to perform required cleanings as boats are removed. Certificate of cleaning would be issued and entered into above database.

  • Set up a funding program to provide instant check system and eradication equipment to both public and private marinas at little or no cost. (Funds would come from the treasury and not by raising fees on boaters and fisherman like the stocking programs.)

If you think this is radical, think about the billions at stake. This is a problem that the government freely admits is going to get worse and really expensive. Personally, I think about it every Sunday when the local marina holds a bass tournament. Their parking lot is full of trailers from Ohio, Vermont, New Jersey and Connecticut. You know at least one of them drove all night to be there after leaving another tournament in some distant lake or river.


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