Surge in sales may be reason for influx of boats arriving at Tahoe with invasive species

Seven boats have arrived this year to Lake Tahoe with invasive mussels. Provided
Tahoe Resource Conservation District

An influx of new boat owners may be contributing to a startling number of vessels arriving at Lake Tahoe with invasive species.

In less than one month, Lake Tahoe watercraft inspections have identified numerous boats carrying harmful aquatic invasive species and added them to the list of boats that had to be decontaminated before launching, according to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the Tahoe Resource Conservation District who manage the inspection program.

So far this year, 14 of the more than 1,000 boats inspected were found to have aquatic invasive species in, on, or attached to the boat, boat trailer, dock lines, or on-board recreational equipment, TRPA said in a press release. Seven of the 14 were carrying invasive mussels, which threaten to devastate Tahoe’s ecosystem and recreational experience, and could cost the region $20 million a year, the agency said. By comparison, 20 vessels with AIS were intercepted throughout last year.

“The invasive species appear to be coming in on newly purchased boats and some of the owners are first-time boat owners,” said TRPA Public Information Officer Jeff Cowen.

In February, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which tracks sales of outboard motors, boats, sterndrives, inboards, personal watercraft, jet drive boats, canoes, and trailers, reported sales of new powerboats were up 34% to the same time period last year. NMMA data show “total new boat sales are averaging 31,000 units sold monthly since the summer of 2020, on a seasonally-adjusted basis, above normal levels and indicative of the heightened demand for new boats spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Inventory levels of new boats are the leanest they’ve ever been, and boats are being sold as soon as they hit the marketplace as manufacturers work to fulfill the backlog of orders,” said Vicky Yu, senior director of business intelligence for NMMA. “While new boat sales slowed in early 2021 following record sales last year, we are still seeing elevated levels as more Americans seek out boating as a way to spend quality time with loved ones. Boat builders continue facing supply side constraints, and the challenge ahead will be keeping leads evergreen as inventories get replenished and life returns to normal.”

A full decontamination could last over an hour before the boat is cleared to launch. Provided
Tahoe Resource Conservation District

For boat owners showing up at Tahoe with invasive species, a full decontamination can take up to an hour or more before they are cleared to launch.

Boats that arrive with standing water, wet equipment or storage areas, or with ballast systems must undergo decontamination and those showing up “Clean, Drained, and Dry” get on the water faster and help protect Lake Tahoe.

Since 2008, the inspection program has intercepted and decontaminated hundreds of vessels carrying invasive species and annually certifies approximately 15,000 motorized watercraft.

No new invasive species have been detected in the region since the program started more than 12 years ago.

Paddlers and non-motorized watercraft owners should also make sure their craft and equipment are “Clean, Drained, and Dry” and dispose of any plants or debris before entering a new body of water, even within the lakes of the Tahoe region.

Paddlers can get a free inspection at any inspection station and can learn how to “Clean, Drain, and Dry” at

Bill Rozak is the editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun.

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