Draining boats after use on Texas lakes is more than just a good idea – effective today, it’s state law.
The new regulation is part of Texas’ ongoing effort to stop the spread of zebra mussels. The invasive creatures have been slowed, but not stopped, in their progress into Texas waters.
Zebra mussels entered the United States through the Great Lakes in 1988. They have been spreading across the continent mainly though the transfer of waters containing developing mussels, which are invisible to the naked eye. The mussels were first identified in Texas in 2009.
“Although they only grow 1.5 inches in size, they can colonize and clog water intakes and pipelines and cause numerous other problems for water infrastructure,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesman Tim Birdsong at a Texas House Natural Resources Committee hearing last week.
In much of North Texas, the mandatory draining law has already been in effect. In November 2013, the rule was implemented in 17 North Texas counties - including Collin, Fannin, Kaufman and Rockwall.
Zebra mussels do more than damage boats – they also have resulted in expensive modifications to state water infrastructure systems, both in repairs to equipment and new pipelines built to avoid the transfer of infested waters to mussel-free lakes.
The rule requires that all vessels, including the smallest personal watercraft, be completely drained. Also, live bait may not be transferred from one Texas lake to another.
“If you have any plugs in your bilges or live wells, any water that you would have taken up from the water body that you’re on, they would check to see that that’s all drained before you leave that lake,” said Ken Kurzawski of Texas Parks and Wildlife, whose game wardens have been tasked with enforcing the law. Fines for violation could run as high as $500, with repeat offenders being subject to up to 180 days in jail.
Lake Texoma and Lavon Lake are among the Texas lakes infested with zebra mussels. Isolated findings have been recorded in Lake Fork, Lake Ray Hubbard, Lake Tawakoni, and Red River east of Lake Texoma.
Lake Bob Sandlin, Lake Bonham, Cooper Lake, Lake Crook, Lake Cypress Springs, Lake Monticello, Pat Mayse Lake, Lake Quitman, Lake Winnsboro and other Northeast Texas waters appear to be free of zebra mussels.
Here’s the law:
Persons leaving or approaching public fresh water are required to drain all water from their vessels and on-board receptacles (includes live wells, bilges, motors and any other receptacles or water-intake systems coming into contact with public waters). This rule applies at all sites where boats can be launched and includes all types and sizes of boats whether powered or not, personal watercraft, sailboats, kayaks/canoes, or any other vessel used to travel on public waters.
Live fish, including personally caught live bait, cannot be transported from the water body where the fish were caught in or aboard a vessel in water from the water body where the fish were caught. Personally caught live bait can be used in the water body where it was caught.
Transport and use of commercially purchased live bait in water while fishing from a vessel is allowed, provided persons in possession of the bait have a receipt that identifies the source of the bait. Any live bait purchased from a location on or adjacent to a public water body that is transported in water from that water body can only be used as bait on that same water body.
A vessel leaving a public freshwater body may be transported on a public roadway without water being drained, provided the vessel is transported via the most direct route to another access point located on the same water body during that same day.
Persons participating in a fishing tournament confined to one water body are allowed to transport live fish in water from that single water body to an identified off-site weigh-in location, provided all water is drained and properly disposed of before leaving that location. Participants must possess documentation provided by tournament organizers that identify them as participants in a tournament.
Marine sanitary systems are not covered by these regulations.
Following these procedures does not exempt persons from complying with prohibitions against transporting exotic aquatic species that are visible to the unaided eye, such as adult zebra mussels, which may be attached to boats or trailers.
More information on zebra mussels can be found here.