Montana Gets Serious About Aquatic Invasive Species

Invasive mussels along a southern Minnesota river.

Back in February I bought my fishing license for the 2017 license year. It was a pretty good deal. For a grand total of $41.01, along with some geezer discounts, I was licensed for fishing and upland bird hunting for the year.

As of a week ago, and before a long holiday weekend of daily fishing, I’d been out on Montana trout waters a dozen times, so the average daily cost for my license fees amortized out to $3.41 per outing. By next January, when the duck season closes, those fees will likely work out to …well, pocket change per trip.

Then I went online and spent another two bucks for an addition to the basic fishing license for an “Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Pass.”

That “Prevention Pass” is the result of new legislation, with the little quirk of the law being retroactive to the beginning of the license year.

I did it online for convenience though it made that $2 fee cost $3.33, with the state’s surcharge for a credit card purchase. That Prevention Pass means my license fee per outing will be a few cents more, but if it helps prevent further spread of invasive mussels it’ll be worth it.

In case you’ve been sleeping the last six months or so, invasive mussels were detected in Canyon Ferry Reservoir and Tiber Reservoir last October. This set off alarms all around Montana’s fishing and boating community, as invasive mussels are virtually impossible to get rid of. In other words, Canyon Ferry and Tiber Reservoir will have invasive mussels forever and will possibly spread throughout the Missouri River system. The mussels can choke off irrigation systems, clog drinking water and hydropower facilities, and seriously damage our state’s fisheries.

The major challenge is to prevent further spread and it won’t be easy.

One of the main ways that invasive mussels spread is by hitchhiking along on boats, as well as waders, wading boots, landing nets and the like. Fire-fighting equipment or irrigation pumps and equipment can also spread mussels.

Several years ago, I floated a southern Minnesota river for smallmouth bass. We found smallies, but we also found mussels. There had been high water during the spring and when the waters went down there were mussels attached to things such as a lawn chair that had washed down the river. It was pretty impressive.

Invasive mussels latch onto everything, and suck all the nutrients out of the waters.

The primary battleground against invasive water species will be on boats.

First, all boats coming from out-of-state must be inspected at an official inspection station. An inspection station stop will be fairly brief, will include a brief interview, and if necessary boats will be decontaminated with hot water to kill invasive mussels and other aquatic invasives. FWP is setting up a network of inspection stations at state borders and other locations, including roving inspection stations.

Under the new law, all motorists hauling watercraft, including powered boats, rafts, drift boats, canoes or kayaks, must stop at inspection stations—even if they have previously been inspected. In addition, any boats taken across the Continental Divide into the Columbia River Basin must be inspected prior to any launch.

“Clean, Drain, Dry” will be the watchwords for all boaters. When leaving a body of water, boaters need to wipe off the boat to remove mud and vegetation. Remove all drain plugs and drain the boat. Open and dry all compartments and live wells. Drain coolant water from boat motors and engines.

Felt-soled wading boots may be a problem. Some states have already banned felt-soled boots because felt soles make it difficult to get rid of hitchhikers. Certainly, if you wade-fish on Canyon Ferry or Tiber Reservoirs, don’t use those felt-soled wading boots you’d use on other waters. Also, at the end of a trip, put your boots and waders out in the hot sun to dry.

Preventing further spread of invasive mussels is going to be difficult, considering that Canyon Ferry is a Missouri River impoundment and Tiber is on a Missouri tributary. But, it’s essential that we do our best to protect our waters.

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