Marinas Play Key Role in Invasive Species Fight

Please note the publication date of this article. Statistics and seasonal information were accurate at the time of publication. Check links provided for the most current information.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Published in Changing Currents, January 2017
Official publication of the Marina Association of Texas

In the fight against invasive zebra mussels, Lake Conroe is holding its own. Like many Texas reservoirs, Lake Conroe has a hospitable environment for these invasive mussels, which have been spotted on boats and jet skis arriving from other places. Boats that have been stored on the water at infested lakes present the highest risk for bringing zebra mussels to new lakes. An infestation would impact water, power, marina infrastructure, recreation, and aquatic life. However, thanks to a cooperative partnership between marina operators and the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), mussels on boats traveling to Lake Conroe aren’t getting to the water.

Lake Conroe has few public access points, so privately operated marinas play an important role as gatekeepers. Under the partnership, when a new boat arrives, marinas contact the SJRA. Jordan Austin, Lake Conroe Division operations manager, sends staff to inspect. If the boat is found to be harboring zebra mussels or other invasive aquatic pests, it won’t be allowed in the lake until it has been decontaminated. Says Austin, “We don’t want it off the trailer until it has passed.”

zebra mussels on boat propeller

Boats from infested lakes may have invasive zebra mussels on hulls, propellers and other surfaces.

Some of the biggest boats come through David Hudgeons’ Inland Discount Marine. Three years ago, when SJRA’s inspection program was just getting started, Hudgeons caught vessels coming in with zebra mussels attached. Today, he takes steps to head off trouble before it arrives.

Hudgeons accepts new boats only on weekdays, and requires the owner or hauler to call ahead for an appointment. “They call and say ‘I have a 35-footer that we’re bringing to Lake Conroe.’ Our first question is, ‘From where?’” If the boat has been in zebra-mussel-infested waters in Texas or elsewhere, he’ll ask them to provide proof that it has been professionally cleaned.

Even with proof of cleaning, SJRA staff always do their own inspection. “We’ve found some with paperwork that says they’ve been cleaned, and we’ve found them fully infested,” says Austin. “We’ve also seen cases where the boat had paperwork, and was clean, but there was a jet ski parked on the front of it that was full of zebra mussels.”

Zebra mussels were found in four new lakes this past summer. Seven major lakes in North and Central Texas are fully infested, with reproducing populations in residence (Texoma, Ray Roberts, Bridgeport, Lewisville, Belton, Eagle Mountain, and Stillhouse Hollow). Four others have tested positive (Lavon, Livingston, Waco, and Worth). When the invasive mussels are established in a water body, there’s no way to get them out. Prevention is the best defense, and attentive marina owners like those at Lake Conroe are making a big difference.

David Hudgeons would like to see similar inspection systems at infested lakes, except in reverse: boats leaving a marina by land would have to pass inspection on the way out. “… before the boat ever gets on the trailer,” Hudgeons said. “Don’t let them out until the zebra mussels and all the aquatic vegetation on the boat are dead.”