HELENA — It’s not summer yet, but Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) watercraft inspection stations are beginning to open, and have already intercepted boats carrying aquatic invasive species.
“The first day the Anaconda station opened, they intercepted a boat with mussels on it,” Montana FWP Aquatic Invasive Species Program information officer Liz Lodman said. “That’s why we’re doing it, we want to catch those boaters traveling early in the season.”
The first boat was intercepted on March 20 and was found carrying invasive zebra mussels. Since then, inspection stations have intercepted five more boats carrying invasive mussels. Lodman said one of the boats intercepted had the most mussels FWP officials have ever seen.
“We have to be vigilant at all times if we care about our waters,” Lodman said.
According to state numbers, inspection stations intercepted a record 35 mussel-fouled vessels in 2020. The United States Geological Survey describes zebra mussels as the “poster child of biological invasions.”
Mussels can coat underwater surfaces like boats and docks. They can cause physical and financial problems. A study from a University of Montana research economist calculated a mussel infestation could cost the state as much as $234 million per year.
Mussels are not the only aquatic invasive species inspection stations are looking to keep out of Montana waters.
“They can be plants, critters or even diseases are aquatic invasive species,” Lodman said.
In 2020, inspection stations caught more than 1,100 watercraft carrying aquatic weeds.
There are rules boaters must follow before they launch in Montana waters.
- Boats or crafts last launched in out-of-state water must be inspected prior to launching in Montana
- Boats crossing the Continental Divide into the Columbia River Basin must be inspected prior to launch
- If a boat has last launched outside the Flathead Basin, it must be inspected before launching in the Flathead Basin.
- Vehicles towing or carrying watercraft must stop at all boat inspection stations they pass.
The following “Clean, Drain, Dry” steps greatly minimize the risk of spreading AIS into new locations:
- Clean: Completely remove all mud, water, and vegetation before leaving an access area.
- Drain: All water from the watercraft and equipment needs to be drained.
- Dry: Let your watercraft and equipment dry before launching in another area. Aquatic invaders can survive only in water and wet areas.