Putting a boat–any boat–into Lake Whatcom is likely to involve a significant brush with bureaucracy in the not-too-distant future, as the city of Bellingham and Whatcom County develop a system to protect the lake from infestation by two Eurasian mussel species.
It remains to be seen how much push-back the governments will get from boaters. Their resentment of inspections and fees may be tempered a bit by the fact that boaters themselves will be among the biggest losers if the mussels get established here.
Here’s a report from the Department of Natural Resources in Wisconsin, where the mussels are already a fact of life. The report advises boaters to undertake regular (and costly) maintenance procedures on their vessels to avoid even more costly damage to hulls and even engines.
Idaho–not a state I usually associate with nanny government–has a robust statewide boat inspection system in place to keep the mussels from getting established there. Idaho inspection stations have been intercepting contaminated boats bound for Washingon. Here’s a recent report from the Spokane Spokesman-Review.
Officers from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife conduct boat inspections too, but this state has so far not funded anything as comprehensive as Idaho’s, WDFW’s Sgt. Carl Klein said in a telephone interview.
WDFW does set up frequent checkpoints at rest areas and truck scales, with electronic readerboards that direct boat haulers to stop for inspection. Boats with mussel contamination are intercepted on a regular basis. Klein says he has personally handled five such cases already this year.
The nightmare scenario for Washington state would be a mussel infestation in the Columbia. Klein says mussels could doom the river system’s struggling salmon runs, clogging the gravel beds where the fish spawn and sucking up all the microorganisms that support the natural food chain.
They would also be a costly headache in the plumbing of the hydroelectric system.
In North America, the mussels first made their presence felt in the Great Lakes, where it is believed they arrived in ballast water aboard Russian freighters that carried them from the Caspian and Black Sea region.
They have turned the ecosystem inside out in some areas.
The Great Lakes were already a sort of invasive species science project before the mussels arrived. First came the introduced lampreys, which decimated the native lake trout among other valuable species. Then came the little herring-like alewives. They thrived in the lake to the point that their dead carcasses littered beaches for several decades: This is how I remember Lake Michigan during my year at Northwestern University, 1972-73.
Then, natural resources agencies introduced Pacific salmon to the lakes. They fattened up on alewives and even began to spawn naturally in lake tributaries. They supported some tribal fisheries as well as a thriving sports fishery. And they got the alewife population down to bearable levels.
But then came the mussels., in the 1980s. Their population exploded, and they fed by siphoning up the alewives’ food supply. Not all Great Lakes have been affected similarly, but in Lake Huron the mussels have been blamed for decimating the alewives and then the salmon. Here’s a lengthy look at the situation from an online sports publication.