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Boat with zebra mussels intercepted in Ashland

ASHLAND — State boat inspectors Sunday intercepted a boat at its Interstate 5 inspection station in Ashland that was infested with zebra mussels, an invasive species that has decimated the Great Lakes and other waterways.

Technicians from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife discovered the mussels during a routine inspection of a boat being hauled from Texas to Canada.

The free inspections are mandatory for all boats passing inspection stations while they are open.

The boat was disinfected on site at the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Ashland Port of Entry and released, according to ODFW.

The discovery is the latest effort to keep zebra and quagga mussels out of Oregon waterways.

“If this boat had launched anywhere in Oregon or elsewhere, it could have introduced and started the spread of zebra mussels to waterbodies like the Columbia River,” says Rick Boatner, ODFW’s Invasive Species and Wildlife Integrity program supervisor.

Quagga and zebra mussels are filter-feeders that siphon water to feed on microscopic organisms and can throw food chains out of balance. Their sheer numbers when they attach to surfaces can clog pipes at reservoirs, damage boat motors and starve other species.

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

Quagga mussels 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.

The Ashland station joins one in Ontario along Interstate 84 as year-round inspection points meant to intercept nonnative invasive species that hitchhike on boats, motors and in bilge water.

Seasonal inspection stations will be open from May 1 and to early September at Brookings, Klamath Falls, Lakeview and Umatilla.

The inspection program is funded through state waterway access permits that are required for paddlecraft 10 feet and longer as well as an out-of-state aquatic invasive species permit is required for motorized boats operating in Oregon.

So far this year technicians have inspected 280 watercraft, and five were found with some type of aquatic invasive species.

In 2020, the Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program inspected 23,044 watercraft and decontaminated 12 vessels for zebra or quagga mussels and 264 vessels with other types of bio-invaders, such as Eurasian watermilfoil.

The inspections take about 5 to 10 minutes. If invasive species are discovered, the vessel is decontaminated on site without charge.

Anyone hauling any watercraft who does not stop could receive a $110 fine for bypassing an open inspection station.

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