The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission has approved for public comment a proposal to require that all boats operating on all public fresh water in Texas be drained after use to help combat the further spread of zebra mussels.
Under the water draining regulations that are currently in effect in 47 counties in North and Central Texas (see below for a link to the list of counties), persons leaving or approaching public water in the affected counties are required to drain all water from their vessels and on-board receptacles. This applies to all types and sizes of boats whether powered or not, personal watercraft, sailboats, kayaks/canoes, or any other vessel used on public waters.
Many of the public waters in Texas are at risk of infestation by zebra mussels. Boats are the most likely source for most of the current infestations. Since boaters in Texas travel throughout the state to engage in that activity, the proposal under consideration would expand these regulations to all public fresh water in every county in Texas.
Applicable at all sites where boats can be launched, the regulation requires the draining of live wells, bilges, motors, and any other receptacles or water-intake systems coming into contact with public waters.
Live fish, including personally caught live bait, cannot be transported in a vessel in water that comes from the water body where they were caught. Personally caught live bait can be used in the water body where it was caught.
Anglers are allowed to transport and use commercially purchased live bait in water while fishing from a vessel 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 could only be used as bait on that same water body.
The rules allow anglers participating in a fishing tournament confined to one water body 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. Anglers are required to possess documentation provided by tournament organizers that would identify them as participants in a tournament.
Movement from one access point to another on the same lake during the same day does not require draining and there is an exception for governmental activities and emergencies. Marine sanitary systems are not covered by these regulations.
Zebra mussels became established in Texas in Lake Texoma in 2009. In 2012, they were found in Lake Ray Roberts and the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. Last year, zebra mussels spread to Lakes Bridgeport, Lavon, Lewisville, and Belton. They can expand their range even farther by hitching a ride on trailered boats that have been immersed or moored in waters where they have established populations.
The rapidly reproducing mussels, originally from Eurasia, can have serious economic and recreational impact to Texas reservoirs. They can clog public-water intake pipes, harm boats and motors left in infested waters by covering boat hulls, clog water-cooling systems, annoy boat-dock owners by completely covering anything left under water, and make water recreation hazardous because of their sharp edges.
From an environmental perspective, zebra mussels are filter feeders, which means they compete with baitfish such as shad for available forage. Any impact on baitfish in turn can affect their predators — game fish such as bass, striped bass and catfish. Zebra mussels also threaten native mussel populations because they will colonize on their shells and essentially suffocate them.
Comment on the proposed regulation may also be made in writing to Ken Kurzawski, TPWD Inland Fisheries, 4200 Smith School Rd., Austin, TX 78744, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The public may comment on the proposed rules online beginning at 8 a.m. April 18 at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/feedback/public_comment/.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission is expected to take action on the proposed change at its May 22 meeting in Austin.
For the list of counties were water draining regulations are currently in effect: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/regulations/outdoor-annual/fishing/general-rules-regulations/possession-and-transport-of-exotic-aquatic-species.