PHOENIX, AZ – State legal and law enforcement officials and environmental scientists from the 15 Western states will meet in Phoenix next week to explore legal and regulatory ways of limiting an invasion of non-native mussels that can clog water systems, foul power plants, harm the environment and cost billions of dollars in damage and control wherever they spread.
Their focus: On forging a uniform approach to education, inspection and regulation to encourage recreational boat inspections in the West to prevent the spread of invasive zebra and quagga mussels.
The Aug. 22-23 meeting, convened by Oregon Sea Grant, the National Sea Grant Law Center (both programs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and hosted by the Arizona Dept. of Fish and Game, is expected to draw representatives from the attorneys general of all 15 Western states, along with state and federal fish and wildlife officials and biologists who specialize in marine invasive species.
Zebra mussels, native to southern Russia but accidentally introduced to many other areas around the world, were first detected in Lake St. Clair, near Detroit, in the late 1980s, likely imported in the ballast-water of ocean-going ships. By clinging to the undersides of docks, boats and anchors, they rapidly spread through the Great Lakes region, the East Coast and the Southeast. Although small, the mussels grow rapidly, and can quickly colonize almost anything underwater – from boat hulls and anchors to municipal and industrial water intakes, hydroelectric systems and other facilities. The cost of managing these pests in the Great Lakes alone has been estimated at more than $500 million a year.
The related quagga mussel, another prolific breeder whose filter-feeding habits has been shown to change entire ecosystems, has followed a similar invasive path since showing up in Lake Erie in 1989, and is now found from the Great Lakes to the Northeast.
Within the last few years, isolated infestations of both species, which can survive for days to weeks out of water have begun to show up in Western recreational and irrigation waters in California and Arizona, moist likely transported on recreational boats and trailers. Efforts to control the spread by educating boaters have met with mixed success, and state-by-state differences in legal and regulatory frameworks hinder the states’ ability to require and conduct inspections.
The Phoenix meeting will look at the impacts of invasive mussels on local economies and infrastructure, the challenges to effective control, and a 100-plus-year-old federal law – the Lacey Act – which could give states a tool for approaching the problem.
Sessions include discussions of state authority to stop boats for inspection, quarantine and decontamination, what programs and laws have been successful in Western states, public attitudes about invasive species education and enforcement, and how cash-strapped states can fund such programs.