The state Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing the first statewide boat-cleaning rules in an effort to limit the spread of aquatic invasive species,
Proposed rules announced Thursday would apply to all DEC-operated boat launches, requiring that any plant or animal material and all excess water be removed from boats before launching them and after removing them from the water.
The proposal would require boaters to also clean trailers and associated equipment, dispose of any bilge or bait water and let the boat dry before re-launching in another body of water.
“This regulation is an important component of DEC’s efforts to help ensure AIS-free waters remain free and additional AIS are not introduced to other waters,” DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said.
The regulations would help the state deal with the spread of aquatic species like the Zebra mussel, quagga mussel and Asian clam, as well as invasive plants like Eurasian watermilfoil and hydrilla that can upset the ecology of a lake.
All those species are found in some parts of the state, and the goal is to keep them from spreading further.
“Boats, trailers and the equipment can spread aquatic invasive species from water body to water body and significantly harm recreational and commercial use of a water body while having a detrimental effect on native fish, wildlife and plants,” Martens said.
Dealing with invasive species can be costly.
Lake George already hosts several invasive species, and the Lake George Park Commission and communities around the lake are spending millions of dollars on eradication efforts, fearing the long-term impact on the lake’s recreational value.
A new mandatory inspection and decontamination system — the first in the eastern United States — is being put in place at Lake George, and officials hope it will go into effect this spring.
Eric Siy, executive director of the Fund for Lake George, said DEC’s proposed statewide rules are a step in the right direction, but they don’t appear to include additional resources for enforcement.
“This acknowledges just how important the invasive species issue is and the need to take mandatory measures,” Siy said. “Part of the puzzle is who will enforce this? There’s teeth, but no bite.”
DEC operates 360 formal boat launching facilities, but the proposed rules would also apply to informal launch sites on state land. DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said the regulation applies to boat launches, waterway access sites, fishing access sites, campgrounds and other lands administered by DEC.
DEC’s boat launches are usually not staffed. Severino said enforcement would be done by the current staff of environmental conservation officers and forest rangers who do compliance checks at boat launches. The regulatory impact statement says that there will be no additional cost to state or local governments.
“This is a step in the right direction, but we have to follow through with enforcement,” Siy said, adding that the Fund for Lake George will make that comment during the public review process.
The proposed rules state that invasive species disposal stations are provided at many boat launches.
“Cleaning and draining a boat is a simple and effective way to reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species from water body to water body,” Severino said. “Although DEC has provided this guidance for many years, having these regulations in place will strengthen its ability to get this message across to those who have ignored it.”
The penalty for a violation would be a fine of as much as $250 or 15 days in jail.
There are about 475,000 boats registered in New York state, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
DEC will accept public comments on the proposal through Feb. 24. If adopted, the rules will take effect immediately.
Comments can be sent via email to email@example.com or mailed to: Edward Woltmann, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bureau of Fisheries, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4753.