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Boat manufacturers urged to join fight against invasive species [Star Tribune (Minneapolis) :: BC-OTD-BOATS-INVASIVESPECIES:MS]

MINNEAPOLIS - Zebra mussels and other aquatic pests may soon have fewer chances to hitchhike via boat, thanks to new boat-design guidelines expected to roll out this month from the American Boat and Yacht Council.

The recommendations, which will go out to the council's 3,000-plus members internationally, are aimed at sealing more boat components, creating more-efficient draining systems and designing parts so inspectors can more easily spot aquatic invasive species.

They include:

- Raising the hull, making the boat self-draining even while in the water;

- Placing the jet intake on the boat's exterior, providing for more effective flushing;

- Creating a "closed" engine cooling system.

"It feels like all the hard work is jelling," said Gabriel Jabbour, a boat manufacturer who owns four marinas on Lake Minnetonka. "I never in my wildest dreams thought this would come."

For the last five years, Jabbour has advocated for changes in boat design to curtail the spread of invasive species. He "has definitely helped move this forward, getting all the parties together," said Brian Goodwin, the council's technical director.

Those parties include the council, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and boat manufacturers.

The design recommendations are a "big first step" in involving the boat industry in the fight against invasive species, said Adam Doll, watercraft inspection program coordinator with the DNR.

Some of the solutions are simple and could lead to design changes in models over the next couple years. Goodwin said. Welding shut the lifting strakes on a pontoon, for example, wouldn't require a significant redesign.

Making changes to a fiberglass boat, however, may require a change to the mold.

"There's such a variety of products in the industry, so (the council) can't say, 'You must do this,' " Goodwin said. "Instead we give them the information."

The next challenge, Jabbour said, will be finding ways to retrofit older boats. The cost of retrofitting those boats would depend on the type of watercraft and could range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.

Jabbour said the conversation about how to update older boats has already begun. Minnesota alone had more than 825,000 registered boats last year.

In addition to boat inspections, the DNR has for years encouraged boaters to clean their watercraft and drain all the water from equipment.

So far this year, according to the DNR, 16 percent of boats checked at Minnesota aquatic invasive species stations were in violation.

New boat designs that follow the council's recommendations will make the draining process more convenient.

"We know that what's good for the boater is good for the industry," Goodwin said. "This is good for the boater, the industry and the environment."

Any water trapped in and around boat equipment can transport viruses and invasive species, said Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates. Even small pools of water can carry thousands of pinhead-sized zebra mussel larvae, called veligers.

"I think the industry really hasn't quite known what to do about that problem," Forester said. The new guidelines, he said, "show there is a role for manufactures to play in this."

Changing boat designs should be viewed as just a piece of a large comprehensive plan to combat invasive species, Forester said.

"This is not a silver bullet," he said. "But it's an important step. It's a common-sense measure, and it's great to see it happening."

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