BOZEMAN — Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) have had a huge push to intercept Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) before they hit Montana’s waterways the last few years.
Roadside inspection stations are seeing more boats and consequently catching more AIS traveling on those watercraft.
FWP AIS Information Officer Liz Lodman explained that the number of AIS those stations are doing a great job of finding mussels and other invasive species, but those numbers are troubling.
Since 2019, the number of boats that have been inspected has fluctuated a lot in part to COVID-19. In 2019 a little over 110,000 boats were inspected. In 2020, more people were traveling with their boats to new waters to get out with their families, and we saw the number of boats inspected jump to nearly 175,000.
So far in 2021, those numbers have dropped back to about 101,000 watercraft inspected. The number of mussel-fouled boats discovered, though, has continued to climb.
The 2019 numbers show that there were 19 boats or watercraft with mussels. In 2020, that number nearly doubled to 35 boats with mussels. Thus far in 2021, inspectors have discovered 53 mussel-fouled watercraft.
“The number of boats moving around with mussels on their boats has dramatically increased," Lodman explained of the process. “The inspectors are doing a really good job of finding those boats at the inspection stations as well, so give credit to them for finding those mussel boats.”
According to the FWP reports regarding AIS, the boats with mussels have come from 13 states in the United States, and two Canadian provinces. Most of these are either near the Great Lakes which have many mussels or from the Greater Columbia River Basin.
The goal of the FWP program is to keep the mussels from creeping from those waters into Montana’s waterways. But Lodman explained that AIS doesn’t just involve mussels.
This could be any living organism that could disrupt the natural state of the ecosystem -- anything from snails or fleas to aggressive plants that could be transplanted into a non-native area.
She also explained how their campaign of Clean, Drain, Dry is designed to eradicate AIS from Montana.
First comes Clean: That means removing plants, mud, or other debris from the watercraft. “Walk around and make sure that there isn’t anything attached to your boat or your boat trailer,” Lodman explained.
Drain is self-explanatory. Drain any water from your watercraft. That means to pull the drain plug, clear your live wells, and bilge pumps, and make sure that there isn’t anything left.
Lodman explained that in Montana, the current law doesn’t require you to leave your plug out during transport as it may in other states, but it is required to pull the plug.
She also explained that you cannot transport your catch in a full live well.
The Dry portion of the campaign is the last part. Give your watercraft or fishing equipment a chance to dry before going to the next waterway.
“AIS can't live in a dry environment, so allowing your boat to dry out between trips is a really good practice,” Lodman said.
Often overlooked is your fishing gear. Make sure that your fishing line is clean, your waders are cleared of mud or plants and that your boots do not have mud or other debris on them.
It is a simple practice that will help keep Montana’s waters pristine and clear of living organisms that could damage our existing ecosystem.