Boats must be inspected before entering Montana waters

Source: Williston Herald
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By Elizabeth Hackenburg ehackenburg@willistonherald.com

Concerns over the potential spread of invasive mussels in Montana’s waterways have led to new requirements that will affect all out-of-state boaters.

Those planning to launch in any body of water in Montana must undergo an inspection first to make sure their watercraft is not transporting the type of mussels or larvae that turned up last year in two popular reservoirs.

Although watercraft inspection stations have been in place in Montana for the past decade, the sites are nearly doubling as a team of conservationists and environmental experts try to keep invasive mussels out of the state’s waters.

The regulation includes all fishing boats, kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards, officials say, and covers the entire state.

“If somebody’s coming from Williston and they’re wanting to go fish the lower Yellowstone or the Missouri River, and all they do is put in the canoe and spend the day floating on the water, they have to get inspected before they launch, that’s the law,” Greg Lemon, information bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said.

Last summer, three water samples from the Tiber Reservoir in the north central region of the state tested positive for larvae from either Zebra or Quagga mussels, both of which are invasive species, and another sample out of the Canyon Ferry Reservoir returned inconclusive results.

Although no adult mussels have yet turned up, the tests triggered an immediate response from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who declared a natural resource emergency last fall. A team of experts is now working on preventing an infestation of the mussels, which reproduce rapidly and have no natural predators in Montana.

“The impact on mussels is not just to boaters and recreational users and fisheries, it’s also to municipalities that might pull water out of the river, and it would affect agricultural use,” Lemon said. “We’ve got a lot of pristine water bodies in Montana that are really popular that would be damaged by this. There’s a lot of concern, plus mussels can get a foothold in rivers, and Montana is known far and wide for its fly fishing.”

Another law put in place as a preventative measure prohibits the transportation of water from one body of water to another within the state, a regulation that is likely to primarily affect people who fish with live bait. Bait such as live minnows and leeches is still allowed, but it needs to be transported in tap water, officials say.

Boaters are also being asked to clean, drain and dry their boats after taking them out on the water.

“If you do that you’re not going to spread any of these nasty critters anywhere, you’re going to be in compliance with the law, and you’re going to be protecting the waterways,” Lemon said. “There’s a lot of these laws that are really difficult to enforce, but we also know if you care about the health of your water and the health of your lakes and rivers, then you need to adhere to this stuff. We’re not trying to write tickets, we want to make sure we’re protecting our rivers and lakes.”

For more information, visit musselresponse.mt.gov.