For those of us with boats, we all purchased “Mussel Fee” stickers with our biennial registration last January. I just paid the $16 and moved on.
This past Tuesday at the Nevada County Fish and Game Commission’s monthly meeting, there was a presentation by two representatives of the Department of Parks and Recreation, Division of Boating and Waterways. The fees and the presentation are steps in an overall strategy by California to combat the spread of zebra and quagga mussels as well as other potential invasives.
These mussels were first found in the Great Lakes in the 1980s. It is assumed that these Eurasian natives arrived via the ballast water of transocean ships. Since that time, these mussels have been moved into the Mississippi River system and waters east of the Rockies.
In 2007, these mussels were found in the large reservoirs of the Colorado River. Water transport to Southern California has enabled the establishment of these species in a number of lakes in Southern California. To date there is one reservoir in Northern California that is infested, San Justo Reservoir near Hollister in San Benito County.
The way these mollusks reproduce is via free-floating microscopic offspring that can be carried by currents. This accounts for their travel in river systems. The movement across oceans and the continental divide is presumed to be by boats.
The problem caused by these mussels is two-fold. They tend to form dense colonies that can choke off water flow in power plants, water treatment facilities as well as agricultural water systems. The costs in the Great Lakes region to manage for these runs into the billions of dollars. They also disrupt the food chain, out competing pre-existing species.
In response to the spread of these mussels, California came up with a strategy. The funding source is the boat stickers. The next step is to halt the spread. The Boating and Waterways presentation last Tuesday was intended to inform us of the upcoming plan and to solicit input.
The state has placed the responsibility for assessing vulnerability, education, monitoring and management regarding any body of water on the owner and/or manager of the body of water. The sticker funds are meant to finance these efforts.
What the state wants are regional responses to the problem rather than a lake by lake plan. Valley waters may have different plans than foothill or high mountain lakes.
The sticker fees will be used to fund grants for local efforts to combat the spread of quagga mussels specifically and invasives in general. At the conclusion of the meeting, a member of the Resource Conservation District offered to coordinate a committee to begin looking into a local response.
Based on comments I heard at the meeting, the plan will most likely include a local inspection and decontamination station. The state mandate will give priority funding to regional plans over smaller scale efforts. The practicality of preventing the spread has a number of problems. The inspection process focuses on a dry boat.
The mussels need moisture to survive but they do not die the instant the water evaporates, it takes time. How long has your boat been dry? Can any boat pass inspection on a rainy day?
My heavy sailboat has carpeted bunkers on the trailer that it rests on. Is there still moisture trapped between the hull and the carpet? Do I have to be inspected every time I fish another lake?
If I want to be on the water at dawn, do I have to be inspected the day before, which is the case at Lake Tahoe.
Currently the quagga problem is south of the Tehachapi Mountains. The key to keeping it out of the north state is public awareness and cooperation. We won’t really know if they have arrived until they are established in a body of water. Without each of us making a conscious effort to not transport these mussels, all of the rules, laws and mandates will not work. If we get these mussels in our area I can anticipate a host of restrictions coming into play. The net result will be the overall reduction in angler days. It is up to us.
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at www.trollingflies.com.