OLYMPIA - As state waters warm with the approach of summer, aquatic plants and animals flourish - including aquatic invasive species.
Boaters can help protect the waters they enjoy - and avoid potential fines - by following a few simple precautions, said Allen Pleus, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) aquatic invasive-species coordinator.
To protect Washington waters, all watercraft should be cleaned, drained and dried before launch and after leaving the water for a new destination. Transporting aquatic invasive species is illegal in Washington, with a potential fine of $500 plus decontamination costs for violations.
"These precautions are critical in preventing the spread of invasive species," Pleus said. "Many invasive species are easily seen, such as attached mussels and aquatic plants, but many others are not - such as juvenile mussels, plant spores, and fish and shellfish diseases."
Specifically, boaters are asked to take the following steps before launching or moving their boat to another destination:
- Clean: Remove any visible plants, dirt or animal life from boats, motors, trailers, boots and other personal gear and equipment.
- Drain: Pull the plug to release lake or stream water at the source from fish wells, wakeboard ballast tanks and bait buckets (put bait in the garbage).
- Dry: Rinse equipment in fresh potable water and dry, or allow to dry, before the next use.
Cleaning and draining watercraft immediately after leaving a water body will prevent accidental spread of invasive species on the ride home as well as avoiding potential fines, Pleus said.
Anyone bringing a boat or other aquatic equipment into Washington state must follow special certification procedures if the craft has been in a water known to be infested with zebra or quagga mussels. Certification of inspection - and certification of decontamination if zebra or quagga mussels are found - is required before entering Washington.
Most states with zebra or quagga mussel infestations provide information on approved vendors that offer inspection and decontamination services. Decontamination requirements for Washington state require that all zebra or quagga mussels - including empty shells - be removed from exterior and interior surfaces.
Boats aren't the only equipment that need careful attention to prevent the spread of aquatic invaders. Stemming aquatic invasive species is the responsibility of everyone who uses Washington waters, including:
Floatplane pilots: Aquatic invasive species can attach to protected areas on floats and landing gear; fish or shellfish diseases and microscopic larva can seep into floats and be flushed into new waters when pumped out at the next landing (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luDZptFsQDk ).
Fishers: Waders, floats, bait buckets, nets, and anything else that touches the water offers a place for aquatic invasive species to hitchhike.
Construction workers: Boats, barges and other construction equipment used to build docks or bridges, as well as used construction materials such as floats, pilings, and navigation aids, are often overlooked pathways for invasive species.
Pet owners: Aquatic invasive species can ride along on the fur, pads or hooves of animals.
Facility operators: Hydropower facilities, reservoirs, and irrigation district equipment - such as pumps, pipes, fish passage and debris screens, navigation aids, and other equipment previously used in other aquatic locations - must also be treated with the clean, drain, dry procedure to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species.
WDFW works closely with other aquatic invasive species managers and interested parties through the Washington State Invasive Species Council (http://www.invasivespecies.wa.gov/index.shtml) and is participating in regional and national efforts to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, including the "Protect Your Waters" campaign (http://www.protectyourwaters.net) and the 100th Meridian Initiative (http://100thmeridian.org).
For more information on aquatic invasive species, visit the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/ais/youcanhelp.html. To report an aquatic invasive species sighting, request a free inspection, or request information on aquatic invasive species contacts in other states, please call 1(888) 933-9247 toll-free.