Texas officials look at proposed rules to fight invasive zebra mussels

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Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Texas officials hoping to combat the spread of invasive zebra mussels have proposed new rules requiring that all boats operating on public waters in 17 northeast counties be drained after use.

Zebra mussels became established in Texas in Lake Texoma in 2009.  Last year, they were found in Lake Ray Roberts and the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. More recently, zebra mussels have spread to Lake Bridgeport on the West Fork of the Trinity River and into Lake Lewisville, according to a news release. They can expand their range farther by hitching a ride on trailered boats that have been immersed in waters where they have established populations.

The rapidly reproducing mussels, originally from Eurasia, can have serious economic and recreational impact to state reservoirs. They can clog public-water intake pipes, harm boats and motors left in infested waters by covering boat hulls, clog water-cooling systems, annoy boat-dock owners by completely covering anything left under water, and make water recreation hazardous because of their sharp edges, according to the release.

Zebra mussels are filter feeders, which means they compete with baitfish such as shad for available forage.  Any impact on baitfish in turn can affect their predators — game fish such as bass, striped bass and catfish.  Zebra mussels  also are harmful to native mussel populations because they colonize on their shells.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission’s action in its Aug. 21 meeting is the result of additional rule-making authority granted to the commission through House Bill 1241, passed last spring by the 83rd Legislature.

Under the proposed regulations, persons leaving or approaching public water in the affected counties will be required to drain all water from their vessel before leaving the lake, according to the release. This would apply to all types and sizes of boats, whether powered or not, personal watercraft, sailboats, or any other vessel used to travel on public waters.

The proposed rule will apply on public waters in Collin, Cooke, Dallas, Denton, Fannin, Grayson, Hood, Jack, Kaufman, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Rockwall, Stephens, Tarrant, Wise and Young counties.

Applicable in all areas where boats can be launched, the regulation would require the draining of live wells, bilges, motors, and any other receptacles or water intake systems coming into contact with public waters.

Activities that would be affected under this proposal are: live fish could not be transported in water that comes from the water body where they were caught; personally caught live bait could only be used in the water body where it was caught; and no off-site tournament weigh-ins would be allowed if live fish are being transported off a body of water in one of the affected counties.

Anglers would be allowed to transport and use commercially purchased live bait in water provided they have a receipt that identifies the source of the bait. Any live bait purchased from a location on or adjacent to a public water body that is transported in water from that water body could only be used as bait on that same water body, according to the release.

Movement from one access point to another on the same lake during the same day would not require drainage and there is an exception for governmental activities and emergencies.  Marine sanitary systems would not be covered by the new regulations.

The public can comment on the proposed rules online.

Comment also may be made in writing to Ken Kurzawski, TPWD Inland Fisheries, 4200 Smith School Rd., Austin, TX 78744, by email at ken.kurzawski@tpwd.texas.gov or in person at any of the following three public hearings, all of which will begin at 7 p.m.

  • Oct. 1 in Fort Worth at Cabela’s, 12901 Cabelas Drive.
  • Oct. 8 in Denison at the Denison SNAP Center, 531 West Chestnut.
  • Oct. 9 in Garland at Bass Pro Shops, 5001 Bass Pro Drive.

The commission is expected to take action on the proposed change at its Nov. 7 meeting.

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