Bill aims to halt spread of invasive mussel
March 03, 2009, 8:14 p.m.
Cronkite News Service
PHOENIX - Boaters may soon be forced to do their part to ensure they haven't picked up any aquatic hitchhikers when they leave Arizona waterways.
A bill introduced by Rep. Nancy McLain, R-Bullhead City, would empower the Arizona Game & Fish Department to set up checkpoints to inspect boats and other watercraft for invasive species and require boaters to decontaminate their vessels.
"That's just good, responsible boating," said Larry Riley, wildlife management coordinator with Game and Fish. "Just give the boat a nice, hot bath."
On Monday, the House Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee unanimously passed the HB 2157, designed mainly to stop the spread of the quagga mussel, an invasive species that has wreaked havoc in the Great Lakes region.
The mussel has been found in Lake Mohave and Lake Havasu along the Colorado River, in Lake Pleasant north of Phoenix, in the Central Arizona Project canal and at the gateway to Salt River Project canals in the Phoenix area.
While Game & Fish can currently ask people to clean off their boats, the bill would give the agency clear authority to stop boaters and make them take steps to prevent spreading invasive species, Riley said. The inspections would likely be set up at checkpoints entering or exiting lakes, he said.
Riley said the bill also would allow his agency to set up checkpoints at lakes where there are no quagga mussels to make sure boats towed there haven't brought along any.
If the bill passes, people who don't clean their boats after leaving a waterway where invasive species are present would have to pay a fine up to $1,000. It would become a Class 6 felony to knowingly sell, purchase or otherwise exchange an aquatic invasive species or to knowingly release such a species.
Quagga mussels spread rapidly and can form huge colonies that clog water intakes and damage piers and boats. They also drain ecosystems of nutrients, disrupting the food supply for fish.
"They are little, tiny things and they attach themselves to pipes," McLain told the members. "They are rapidly growing, and there's a potential that they could actually clog some of the intake valves."
Jennifer Martin, a member of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, said the bill gives Game and Fish more tools to address a growing problem.
"This has already caused significant problems with our sport fishers, and there is potential in the future, infrastructural damage could occur," Martin said.