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Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Boaters urged to clean up, protect waters from pests

Seattle Times staff reporter

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For more information about zebra mussels, go to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's Web site at wdfw.wa.gov/fish/ans/ans1.htm; for advice and recommendations on cleaning boats and equipment, visit www.protectyourwaters.net
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A state inspector in Spokane found live zebra mussels earlier this month on a boat being towed toward Bellingham from Tennessee, once again raising fears that the ecologically disastrous pests could infest Washington waters if boaters aren't more careful.

State wildlife agents are particularly on edge this year because many recreational boaters are expected to visit the state to celebrate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

All it would take, they say, is for one infested boat to push into Lake Roosevelt behind the Grand Coulee Dam to destroy fish habitat and impede the hydroelectric systems of the entire Columbia River.

"I can't think of a worse place for them to be than at the head of the Columbia," said Pam Meacham, assistant invasive-species coordinator for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"Everybody who uses our water bodies needs to take care of our water bodies."

The discovery of the mussels May 11 on a large Bayliner cabin cruiser was the fourth time in recent years that inspectors have found the mussels on incoming boats. But so many smaller boats don't stop at weigh stations for inspections that wildlife agents fear it's only a matter of time before a colony of the mussels takes hold here.

The tiny, striped mussels have taken over ecosystems in 22 states and two Canadian provinces, where they clog canals and water-supply systems, damage boats and disrupt the food chain.

Originally from the Caspian and Black seas, they first arrived in the United States in the 1980s, when they probably were discharged into the Great Lakes from ships' ballast water.

They are practically impossible to get rid of, and they are difficult to detect. At birth, the mussels are microscopic, then they grow in huge clusters. A single mussel rarely grows more than an inch long. And they're not even good eating.

About two years ago, inspectors found the mussels on a boat that was about to be launched in Seattle's Lake Union, Meacham said.

The boat in Spokane had been used on a river reservoir in Tennessee that is infested with the mussels.

The owner had cleaned the boat, but not well enough. It was quarantined until agents were sure it was clean.

"Every boat we've found live mussels on is a boat that had been cleaned, but not adequately," Meacham said.

Wildlife agents are urging boaters to thoroughly wash boats with very hot water and let them dry for five days or more before putting into local waters.

Even fishing tackle and water-loving pets should be cleaned, they say.

Ian Ith: 206-464-2109 or iith@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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