Boaters beware: How a pesky quagga mussel can make you a criminal; new photos from DWR

Division of Wildlife Resources Lt. Scott Dalebout examines a dead quagga mussel found on a boat at a watercraft checkpoint on U.S. Highway 89 near Big Water, Utah, May 13, 2015 | Photo by Heather Talley, courtesy of DWR, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — By now, you may have heard about invasive quagga mussels, but what you may not know is that spreading just one of these sneaky little species can label you a criminal, cost you a hefty fine and reserve a bed with your name on it in jail.

Quagga mussels cover the bottom of a boat dock at Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell.  The state of Utah is working hard to prevent mussels from spreading to other waters in the state, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News
Quagga mussels cover the bottom of a boat dock at Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell. The state of Utah is working hard to prevent mussels from spreading to other waters in the state, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Mussels are a Skiff-Transmitted Disease, or STD, according to Utah’s Division of Wildlife Services, and they’re a threat to Utah lakes. What’s more, they’re so small, they could be hitching a ride on your boat without you even knowing it.

“They’re dangerous and they’re damaging,” the DWR said. “That’s why it’s so important to prevent spreading them to other Utah lakes.”

So dangerous, in fact, it has led Utah to make transporting a mussel in or on a boat a class A misdemeanor criminal offense.

“If you’re caught doing that,” Jordan Nielson, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the DWR, said, “you could be fined as much as $5,000 and spend time in jail.”

Already this summer, DWR and state parks officers have caught and issued citations to people who broke this law, according to a statement released by the DWR.

“Our technicians have immediate contact with law enforcement officers in the area,” Nielson said, adding that DWR and state parks officers are also conducting random checkpoints at areas near Lake Powell and Deer Creek Reservoir.

What’s the big deal about the quagga mussel?

  • They are promiscuous little species

Mussels can plug water lines, even very large diameter ones. Quaggas are mere 5 centimeters long or less, but they breed rapidly, and can block pipes and other water inlets and outlets incredibly fast. If mussels get into water delivery systems or drinking water treatment facilities in Utah, it will cost millions of dollars to try to remove them; they usually have to be physically dislodged. Utahns would likely pay for the removal through higher utility bills.

  • They are a menace to society
A Utah DWR AIS biologist examines a quagga mussel-encrusted boat dock at the Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News
A Utah DWR AIS biologist examines a quagga mussel-encrusted boat dock at the Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Mussels can damage your boat by attaching themselves to your boat’s hull and fouling the boat’s engine cooling system.

  • They show no mercy

Quagga mussels literally suffocate other mussel species. They sit on their shells and physically push them into underlying silt or sediment. Mussels remove plankton from the water column; the same plankton that support Utah’s sport fish and native fish, and could devastate fisheries in Utah.

  • They make poor neighbors

The quagga mussel upsets ecosystems by filtering and cleaning water, allowing light to penetrate to the riverbed and nuisance weeds to grow and flourish in lakes and rivers. When mussels die in large numbers, they stink, and their sharp shells can cut your feet as you walk along beaches where the mussels died.

Decontamination

The spread of quagga mussels in Lake Powell, with the possibility the invasive invaders might be in Utah’s Deer Creek Reservoir, has added to the time it takes boaters and anglers to leave both areas.

This boat dock cable at the Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell is encrusted with quagga mussels.  The state of Utah is working hard to prevent mussels from spreading to other waters in the state, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News
This boat dock cable at the Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell is encrusted with quagga mussels. The state of Utah is working hard to prevent mussels from spreading to other waters in the state, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Nielson said the DWR and State Parks are doing inspections for two reasons: to keep quagga mussels from spreading to other waters in Utah and to keep people from being cited.

If boaters aren’t prepared, the mandatory visit with an aquatic invasive species technician, coupled with extra boats, could make leaving either area a time-consuming process over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

But there’s good news too. If you do two simple things before pulling in line to leave the area, you can reduce the amount of time it takes to be on your way.

Technicians go through a detailed, systematic process to ensure boats are free of mussels, Nielson said. If you clean all of the mud, plants and debris off your boat and drain all of the water out of it, your visit with an invasive species technician should last a couple of minutes.

The last part of the self-decontamination process, letting your boat and any equipment that came in contact with the water dry for seven days before using it again, can be done at home.

You can learn more about the three-step clean, drain and dry process at STD of the Sea.

Quagga mussels at the Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News
Quagga mussels at the Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Nielson said many boaters believe their boat must be professionally decontaminated with hot water before they can leave the area.

“That isn’t the case,” he said. “As long as you drain all of the water out of your boat — and you didn’t find any attached mussels during the cleaning process — you can leave the area pretty fast.”

Nielson says if you can’t completely dry your boat before placing it on the water again, DWR or Utah State Parks technicians will help you determine the best way to make sure your boat is decontaminated and that you’re keeping Utah’s waters safe.

Professional decontaminations are free. To schedule a decontamination, call any Utah State Park with a reservoir. You can also contact your nearest DWR aquatic invasive species biologist; in Southern Utah, biologists are:

  • Southern Utah | Matt Bartley | Telephone 435-691-2427
  • Lake Powell, Bullfrog | John Steffan | Telephone 435-613-3700
  • Lake Powell, Wahweap | Adam Boehm | Telephone 435-592-9723

In Southern Utah, boats can also be decontaminated at Sand Hollow State Park, located at 3351 S. Sand Hollow Road in Hurricane and operating daily from 7-9 a.m. and 3-5 p.m. For more information, call 435-680-0715.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • Billy Madison June 30, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    Are these things edible? With enough ketchup, most anything can be eaten.

  • fun bag July 2, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    harmless baby oysters.. don’t know why all the fuss…

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