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Bill add fines to protect state lakes from invasive species

Boaters launching vessels into Massachusetts lakes this summer could face new fines under a stricter regulations the Department of Conservation and Recreation has designed to prevent local waters from being contaminated by “aquatic nuisances.’’

In the past few years, some lakes in the state have been infested by species that are not indigenous to Bay State waters. The problem is particularly pronounced in the western part of the state, where zebra mussels - an invasive species that causes ecological damage to lakes, rivers, ponds, and reservoirs - infested Laurel Lake in Berkshire County.

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Zebra mussels were not seen in Massachusetts prior to 2009. They cause ecological damage to the lakes and ponds they infest by feeding on lower-level organisms that make up the initial food supply that fish and other aquatic animals use to survive.

“Eventually they clear all the food out of a lake, and everything else will die,’’ said Jack Hickey, president of the Lakes and Pond Association of Western Massachusetts.

State environmental officials believe that zebra mussels and other damaging aquatic species are brought in from neighboring states when boaters do not properly clean and decontaminate their vessels before putting them into Massachusetts waters.

The House is poised to pass legislation next week that would allow the state’s Environmental Police to enforce decontamination procedures at public boat launches. The bill lets Environmental Police enforce decontamination procedures, and enables them to levy civil fines on to boaters who do not comply, from $25 to $100 for the first offense, $100 for second offense, and up to $1,000 for a third offense.

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