California lacks law to prevent mussel spread
With boaters regularly coming to Lake Tahoe from waterways infested with invasive species, a key piece of California legislation making transporting quagga mussels a crime remains unsigned.
Eight percent of boaters have been to a lake, reservoir or river infested with zebra or quagga mussels — such as Lake Mohave or Lake Havasu — within one year of their visit to Lake Tahoe, according to a two-week boater survey completed by the Tahoe-Baikal Institute on July 6.
The surveys have been part of public and private efforts to educate boaters in the basin since the discovery of quagga mussels in Lake Mead in January.
“There’s a concern only because the auxiliary is not a law enforcement agency,” said Ray Ellen Wise, a division staff officer for vessel examination for the Coast Guard auxiliary based in Tahoe City on Thursday. “At this point it is strictly just individual compliance through education.”
While enforcement on the California side of the basin would fall under California Fish and Game jurisdiction, there is currently no law delegating the authority to control the spread of quagga mussels to the agency.
A California State assembly bill, AB 1683, would allow up to a $1,000 fine to possess or transport the mussels, although the bill ultimately leaves it up to California Fish and Game to determine the penalty.
The law would also allow fish and game officials to conduct inspections, and order a boat to be decontaminated or impounded, provisions already present in Nevada.
“Quagga mussels are prohibited just like any other illegal game animal,” said Ed Lyngar, boating education coordinator at the Nevada Division of Wildlife.
“We do have the ability to stop boats and seize them if necessary.”
Game wardens maintain a presence at Lake Tahoe throughout the summer and, although it is not their primary charge, would respond to the discovery of a boat infected with zebra or quagga mussels, according to Lyngar.
The Tahoe Resource Conservation District is working on an aquatic invasive species plan with the Army Corps of Engineers, where a coordinated response to an infested boat at Lake Tahoe would be spelled out.
This plan will not see implementation until next year, according to Jenny Francis, Backyard Conservation Resource Planner with the conservation district.