- Associated Press - Monday, July 24, 2017

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) - Stop aquatic hitchhikers! Zap the zebra! Clean, drain and dry!

You might be familiar with some of these rallying cries if you’ve recently spent time near Lewis and Clark Lake or the Missouri River along the South Dakota and Nebraska borders. They are references to multiple efforts being deployed to combat the spread of zebra mussels, aquatic invasive mollusks that have made their way into regional waters, the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan (https://bit.ly/2vuawUj ) reported.

“When I started working awareness events nine years ago, the vast majority of people were confused as to why we were doing them,” said Paul Lepisto of the Izaak Walton League of America, a wildlife conservation group. “They thought that we didn’t have to worry about invasive species in this part of the United States. They had heard about zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, but they were shocked to hear that they were in the Missouri River.

“The fact is that the threat of these things isn’t coming anymore. They are here and people have to make changes to the way they do recreation. It doesn’t matter if you are fishermen or recreational boater; we all have to work together to keep the water healthy and productive for the next generations.”

With zebra mussels making their permanent home in the Missouri River and Lewis and Clark Lake, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and Nebraska Game and Parks Commissions have stepped up their efforts to educate the public and prevent the further spread of aquatic invaders to other bodies of waters in the regions through the promotion of awareness programs and the enforcement of stricter laws and guidelines regarding boating in both states.

Zebra mussels originated in the Black and Caspian seas near southern Russia and Ukraine, but have since invaded North America, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and Sweden by attaching themselves to ships and passing into international waters undetected. One adult female alone can produce 1 million eggs in a lifetime and zebra mussel veliger, or larvae, are microscopic and can attach to almost anything in the water.

“The impact that invasive species have on a body of water once they get in it is nearly irreversible,” said Lepisto. “They are virtually impossible to eradicate. The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is so true with zebra mussels. If we can keep zebra mussels out of our lakes and rivers, those waters will never have to deal with the same problems that hinder recreation in already-contaminated waters.”

The main problems caused by zebra mussels are usually related to structural damage. The mussels can range in size from microscopic to nearly two inches long with a tendency to cluster up on structures as they multiply. With the way that they group up together, zebra mussels can easily clog intake pipes and boat motors. They have also been known to grow on the bodies of other aquatic species like crayfish and native mussels causing them harm.

“The biggest problem with zebra mussels at this point is that they damage infrastructure because they attach and layer up on anything that is in the water for an extended period of time,” said Jeff Schuckman of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

It isn’t just structural damage that zebra mussels are causing on parts of the Missouri River, though. It is also relatively unknown yet what impact the mussels will have on native animal and plant species and the overall ecosystem and food chain in the region.

“A zebra mussel can filter up to a liter of water per day,” Schuckman said. “If you start to multiply that by the number of zebra mussels out there, that is a pretty big number. We don’t know what effect they are having on the phytoplankton and zooplankton levels in the area. They are working at the bottom level of the food chain and could cause disruptions in the future.”

One of the ways that Nebraska is working to help educate the public and prevent the spread of zebra mussels is through the implementation of a $15 aquatic invasive species stamp that must be purchased by out-of-state boaters before launching their boats into Nebraska waters. While the stamp is required for out-of-state boaters, residents are also required to pay an extra fee that goes toward the aquatic invasive species program when they register their boats every three years.

“The money from the stamp and fees goes toward paying the wages of invasive species technicians working across the state,” Schuckman said. “Right now, in the northeast district of Nebraska, we have three technicians who are responsible for doing boat inspections, handing out literature and collecting veliger samplings.”

As a separate measure of defense against the spread of zebra mussels, Nebraska and South Dakota both promote the concepts of cleaning, draining and drying boats before leaving a body of water. The states ask that individuals clean their boats by removing plants, animals and mud from the craft and thoroughly washing all equipment that came into contact with water. Boaters are also asked to drain all water from their wells, bilge, ballast and other equipment before leaving.

If a boat isn’t able to completely drain its live well, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission recommends a 20-minute soak in vinegar to kill zebra mussel veligers. The final step is to let all equipment dry completely before launching into another body of water. Along with cleaning, draining and drying boats, the states also ask that fishermen dispose of their live bait in the trash and not the water supply.

“I think that people are taking this very seriously now,” Lepisto said. “They are realizing the way we used to do things isn’t the way we can do them anymore. The reality of zebra mussels is that now we must involve those extra steps every time we are done enjoying the river to make sure that the future of our recreation stays available. If we clean, drain and dry our equipment every time we come off the water, our chances of spreading zebra mussels is almost none.”

Decontamination stations are another way that both Nebraska and South Dakota are working to help prevent the spread of zebra mussels from one body of water to another. The stations are operated by trained technicians and designed to remove both adult zebra mussels and veligers.

“Our technicians conduct a hot flush with 140-degree water for a three-to-four-minute period to kill any veligers and then they power wash any attached mussels,” said Schuckman. “We are trying to get boat shops trained to do decontaminations in Nebraska in case we aren’t around at the time.”

Nebraska laws make it illegal to leave an area with an aquatic invasive species attached to your boat. If a boat is contaminated by an aquatic invasive species, it has to be decontaminated by the Nebraska Game and Parks or a trained boat shop. The only other option is for that boat to be impounded for up to 30 days.

It is illegal in both South Dakota and Nebraska to transport water from one body to another. Both states are working to further develop their aquatic invasive species laws and practices to help ensure that lakes, rivers and streams are protected for future use.

“We are all in this together and we all have to pull in the same direction to keep these invasive species out of our other waters,” said Schuckman.


Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, https://www.yankton.net/

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