On the final day of the Water Sports Industry Association Summit in Steamboat Springs, Colo., chairman of the board Larry Meddock stood before the largest gathering of members of the towsports industry and said a problem had to be dealt with.
Environmental groups have been stepping up their efforts against the ballast systems in wake-surfing boats, concerned that the boats’ ballast tanks have been transporting the larvae of zebra mussels, known as veligers.
“We have two choices,” Meddock told the crowd. “We can get proactive and try to get in front of this mess, or we can continue to react to what’s happening.”
The response was undeniable. “For all of us in the room, it was universal that this is a task we have to tackle right now,” says Jay Povlin, vice president of global sales and marketing at MasterCraft Boat Co. “There was complete unity in this.”
Also in attendance were representatives from the American Boat and Yacht Council, as well as National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich, who received the WSIA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “In front of God, country and the entire audience, he said the NMMA is well aware of the issues before our whole industry,” Meddock says. “He said, ‘I want everyone in the room to know the NMMA is with you.’ ”
Meddock says that with approval from the WSIA board and membership, the next step is to reach out to the University of Minnesota, which has been a leader in the research of aquatic invasive species. The plan is to fund a research study and then have ABYC write standards for manufacturers of wake-surfing boats with ballast systems. Meddock says he is expecting a proposal from the university by the mid-March.
The research could stop the problem of veligers being transported between lakes in ballast tanks. When a wakesports boat fills its ballast tanks, it can draw in veligers. When the system is emptied, residual water is left in the tank. If the boat is trailered to another lake and the ballast system is filled and then emptied there, the veligers can be introduced into the second lake.
Many states have decontamination stations where 140-degree water is used to kill mussels on a boat, but Meddock says trying to get the mussels after they’re in or on a boat is the wrong approach.
“We feel, as does the NMMA, as does ABYC, that trying to figure out killing methods after they enter the tank is dumb,” he says. “We need to prevent the bastards from getting in.”
Wake Worx in Fort Lauderdale has a filtration system called Mussel Mast’R for that very purpose. A 13-by-7-inch filter is installed inline between the intake and the ballast tank. Wake Worx says the system is 99.7 percent effective at preventing veliger infestation.
“I just want people to recognize that there is something out there to deal with this,” says MaryKate Wood, owner of Wake Worx. The products are offered on boats from Correct Craft and other companies, but they’re not universally accepted because of the perception that they make the system take longer to fill with water.
The wakesports industry has been aware of aquatic invasive species for years, but only recently have state legislatures started paying more attention to ballast systems. In January, New Hampshire held a public hearing that supported the formation of a state commission to look at aquatic invasive species.
In early March, the WSIA’s Chris Bischoff and the NMMA’s vice president of state government regulations, Dave Dickerson, flew to Vermont to meet with state Sen. John Rodgers, a Democrat, about his bill that focuses on ballast boats and transporting veligers. “It was a really good meeting,” Bischoff says. “He wants to see people taking action, battling this problem.”
Meddock says the industry can’t sit back and react on a state-by-state basis. He says that environmentalists have been frustrated with the marine industry simply because they feel it hasn’t paid enough attention to aquatic invasive species.
“The message here is these people in Vermont and New Hampshire just need to see that we care, and the industry is waking up and is going to do something about it,” he says. “Just imagine if a press release went out that says the university of Minnesota has partnered with the NMMA and WSIA and ABYC. We’ve got traction, and the appropriate minds are now engaged.”
While the New Hampshire bill and environmental groups in other states also have raised concerns about shoreline erosion and safety concerns that come from the large wakes that wakesports boats can create, and others have complained about loud music coming from on board, industry leaders say those issues can be addressed through boater education. The issue of aquatic invasive species, they say, is different.
“This really affects all boaters,” Povlin says. “It’s an issue that needs to be tackled, regardless of the segment of the market you play in.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue.