AUSTIN – In the state’s continuing effort to combat the spread of invasive zebra mussels, 30 counties in North and Central Texas will be added effective Sunday, March 23, to the recently-implemented rules requiring that all boats operating on public water be drained after use.
Under the regulations, 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, or any other vessel used to travel on public waters.
Additional counties being added to the vessel draining requirements are: Archer, Bastrop, Bell, Bosque, Burnet, Clay, Comal, Comanche, Coryell, Eastland, Ellis, Erath, Falls, Fayette, Freestone, Hamilton, Hays, Henderson (west of SH 19), Hill, Johnson, Leon, Limestone, Llano, McLennan, Navarro, Robertson, Somervell, Travis, Wichita, and Williamson.
The rules are currently in effect on all public waters in Collin, Cooke, Dallas, Denton, Fannin, Grayson, Hood, Jack, Kaufman, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Rockwall, Stephens, Tarrant, Wise, and Young counties.
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 cannot be transported in water that comes from the water body where they were caught and personally caught live bait can be used only in the water body where it was caught.
The rules were modified based on public comment to 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 weigh-in location, provided all water is drained and properly disposed of before leaving that location. Anglers would be 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.
Anglers are allowed to transport and use commercially purchased live bait in water provided they 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.
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.