Invasive quagga mussels found during boat inspection

A yacht bound for the Columbia River was discovered Monday to contain non-native quagga mussels when it stopped for a mandatory boat-inspection along Interstate 5 near Ashland.

The boat was purchased recently in Texas by a Portland man who was hauling it home when he stopped at the inspection station at the Ashland port-of-entry near milepost 15, said Rick Boatner, who heads the invasive-species program for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Quagga mussels were discovered on the hull, the motor’s trim tab and on brackets holding a ski platform, Boatner said.

“He had it (decontaminated) somewhere else along his way, but they didn’t do a very good job,” Boatner said.

Crews used high-pressure hot water to decontaminate the boat in about an hour, Boatner said. The discovery was made during the first day of training for a new two-person crew who will man an inspection station near Klamath Falls beginning later this spring, he said.

The boat owner was cooperative, Boatner said.

Quagga mussels approach an inch in length, while zebra mussels can be about twice that size. The species are native to Russia and Ukraine, and are believed to have arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s aboard ships that released ballast water into the Great Lakes.

Quagga and zebra mussels are filter-feeders that syphon water to pluck out microscopic organisms and can throw food chains out of balance. Their sheer numbers when they attach to surfaces can clog pipes at reservoirs and damage boat motors. Giant water bodies turning aquamarine blue is a sign that the base of the food chain is being depleted, risking starvation for other species, including sport fish.

Since their discovery in Nevada’s Lake Mead in 2007, they have multiplied so fast that scientists now estimate the entire volume of the lake is filtered by the mussels every five days.

One estimate put an annual cost of dealing with invasive mussels in the Columbia River alone at $25 million should they populate that river.

It’s the fourth such decontamination of quagga or zebra mussels so far this calendar year in Oregon, Boatner said.

Two boats inspected in Ontario were found to be infested with mussels, Boatner said. A decontamination crew also traveled to Reedsport at the request of a boat-owner whose vessel had mussels on it, he said.

By mid-April last year, six such discoveries had been made, Boatner said.

The Ashland boat-inspection station is open year-round and it is mandatory for all boats to stop for an inspection. Its average of about 7,500 inspections annually leads Oregon.

Decontaminations are free.

The stations are paid for through the $5 annual invasive-species permit needed for all boats more than 10 feet long.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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