FWP seeks comment on rules aimed at invasive mussels

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is seeking comment on proposed amendments to rules that outline new regulations needed in the battle to contain, detect and prevent the risk of spreading invasive mussels and other aquatic invasive species to other state waters.

Invasive mussel larvae were detected for the first time in Montana in October 2016 in Tiber Reservoir – and “suspect” detections turned up in Canyon Ferry Reservoir, the Missouri River below Toston Dam, and the Milk River.

The discovery triggered a natural resource emergency in Montana and led to several recommended strategies to manage the threat of invasive mussels spreading to other areas.

The proposed rule amendments outline several new regulations, including:

Mandatory inspections of out-of-state motorized or nonmotorized watercraft prior to launching on any Montana waterbody.
Mandatory inspections of motorized or nonmotorized watercraft traveling across the Continental Divide into the Columbia River Basin within Montana.
Mandatory inspections of all motorized or nonmotorized watercraft coming off Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs, and decontamination if necessary.
Drain plugs would be required to be removed; if the watercraft doesn’t have drain plugs, reasonable measures must be taken to dry or drain all compartments, including bilges.
Transporting lake and river water would be prohibited.
Live bait and fish would be required to transported in clean domestic water where allowed in current fishing regulations. Upon leaving Tiber and Canyon Ferry Reservoirs, bait and fish must be transported without water.

A public hearing on the proposed rule amendments is scheduled for March 14 in Helena at FWP Headquarters, 1420 E. 6th Ave. The hearing will begin at 6 p.m.

Invasive zebra and quagga mussels have caused tens of millions of dollars in damages in the Great Lakes region and more recently in the southwestern U.S. They likely arrived in the ballast water of ocean-going ships and appeared in the Great Lakes in the 1980s. They’ve since spread to at least 30 states.

The primary vector for transporting invasive mussels is water hauled by boats and associated equipment. All boaters and anglers are urged take year-round precautions and to Clean, Drain and Dry their equipment after each use.

In the absence of their natural predators, invasive mussels rapidly cause significant problems by altering natural systems that support Montana fisheries; overwhelming lakes and rivers and the plants that help keep waters clean and productive; reducing water-based recreation; damaging outdoor equipment, including boats, motors and associated gear; clogging water pipes and hydropower facilities; jamming municipal water supply lines; and choking off agricultural irrigation systems.

For more information or to comment on the rule online, visit the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov, click on the “News” tab and then click on rules or click “Public Notices.”

In January, Montana’s Mussel Response Implementation Team leaders presented a series of recommendations to the Montana Legislature to address prevention, detection and containment efforts, including the creation of an AIS management bureau within FWP.

Recommendations include additional mandatory watercraft inspection stations; deployment of watercraft decontamination stations at Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs; and doubling sample collection to more than 1,500 samples to be taken from more than 200 waterbodies. Emergency response vehicles and equipment engaged in emergency activities would be exempt from the rule amendments.

Comments on the proposed rule amendments are due by March 17. Comments can be emailed to fwpexotics@mt.gov; or mailed to: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Fisheries Division, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701.