HELENA — Officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks say that since the start of the boating season, they’ve already stopped more watercraft for suspected invasive mussel contamination than they did last year.
In 2020, aquatic invasive species checkpoints conducted around 174,000 inspections and identified 35 vessels contaminated with zebra or quagga mussels. This year, they’ve already stopped 39 mussel-fouled boats, after just under 53,000 inspections.
“It’s hard to say why we are at a much higher rate of contaminated boats, but the good news is that we’re catching them, the people that are bringing them in – that we’re getting them stopped and cleaned up,” said FWP spokesman Greg Lemon.
Several dozen watercraft inspection sites are operating across Montana. All boats and other watercraft are supposed to be inspected for mussels and other invasive species whenever they come in from out of state, cross west over the Continental Divide or enter the Flathead Basin. Leaders say compliance is generally good, but game wardens are watching and will pull over drivers who fail to stop.
The state is also still operating decontamination stations at Tiber Reservoir, in north-central Montana. Boats coming off the water there have to be inspected and cleaned, because mussel larvae were detected several years ago.
For several years, Montana has been emphasizing the importance of not spreading aquatic invasive species with its “Clean, Drain, Dry” campaign – urging people to avoid keeping any standing water in their boats. Even as more boats with mussels are being stopped, Lemon said they believe that message is getting through to the public.
“I think what you see now as opposed to three or four years ago is that people are really adopting the Clean, Drain, Dry message and the concept that protecting our waters in Montana is everybody’s job,” he said. “It’s not just Fish, Wildlife and Parks; it’s something that everybody needs to take responsibility for, and Clean, Drain and Dry is the easiest way to do that.”
FWP’s Aquatic Invasive Species website has more information about inspection stations, including a map of their locations and a dashboard with updated data on how many contaminated vessels have been intercepted.