- Associated Press - Monday, June 26, 2017

CANAAN, N.H. (AP) - As she waded into Canaan Street Lake on Sunday morning, Elizabeth Jutila didn’t waste time combing the lake bed for its newest invasive pest.

Just a few steps from the boat launch, she made her first sighting, and quickly reached into the mud to pull out what’s commonly called a Chinese mystery snail.

“This isn’t a big one,” Jutila explained, holding up the roughly half-inch long snail in the palm of her hand. “We’re one down.”

While many communities in the Twin States find themselves battling with the likes of milfoil and other aquatic plants that slowly take over lakes and ponds, residents of the beloved Canaan recreation spot are facing a different threat: snails.

Those same people have also decided to take on the growing snail population in a rather unconventional manner.

Throughout the summer, teams of families plan take to the water to see who can catch the most snails. Armed with buckets, each team will have a week to pull as many snails from the water as possible, with bragging rights and prizes such as a free ice cream at stake.

Ann Berry, a member of the Canaan Lake Association, said the competition was born out of efforts to curtail the snail last summer. That’s when patrons of the town beach and fisherman initially came across the Chinese mystery snail infestation located around the boat launch and the nearby shores of abutting properties.

The snail, which can grow to about two inches tall, was brought to America in the 1880s and initially sold in Chinese food markets. However, it became prevalent as an invasive species after being released into the Niagara River between 1931 and 1942, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Since then, the mystery snail population has spread into much of the Great Lakes area, as well as New York, lower New England and throughout the Connecticut River Valley.

The snail is generally considered “benign” to the surrounding ecosystem, but has been known to clog screen and water pipe intakes, according to the USGS.

Members of the Canaan Lake Association still worry about the snails pushing out farther into the water, causing problems with the Canaan fire department’s nearby dry hydrant or possibly destroying fish eggs.

Residents are also on the lookout for other invasive species carried via boat to the lake.

That’s how some believe the snail was introduced to the 291-acre body of water, which serves as the source for Canaan Village’s drinking water.

Jutila was one of a few residents who took up the call last year to remove snails from the lake.

“I was obsessive about it,” she said. “My grandson and I would come down and just collect.”

Altogether, volunteers collected about 500 snails, according to Berry. But the female snails can produce more than 169 offspring over their 5-year life span, meaning Canaan residents can only hope to contain the infestation.

“You think about all those out there that are doing that,” Jutila said. “That’s why they said it’s almost impossible to get rid of them all.”

That doesn’t deter her, though, or the likes of K.J. Roy, who was with her grandchildren picking up snails on Sunday.

“I’ve been coming to Canaan all my life,” said Roy, a Canaan Street resident. “We’re very protective of this lake.”

Berry said the lake also has designated lake hosts on duty to check boats coming on and off the water. A paid host is on duty much of the time and volunteers work to make up the hours in between, she said.

While the snails will be a challenge, Berry said, residents are worried they could be a precursor for milfoil coming to Canaan Street.

The aquatic weed, currently found on Mascoma Lake and Post Pond in Lyme, is much more expensive and troublesome to remove, she said.

“I don’t like fishing in places that have milfoil. It’s just nasty. It gets all over your gear,” said Ron Bateman, a fisherman visiting Canaan Street Lake on Sunday.

“That’s why we pay attention. We want to have a nice lake,” he said.

Cleaning off the boat after every trip is a commonsense measure to prevent invasive species from moving, said Mike Welsch, who was fishing with Bateman.

“You can’t go fishing in this pond in the morning and then back up and go splashing someplace else without washing the thing off,” he said. “That’s just the way we’ve done it for years.”

That’s good news to Jutila, who hopes to see more of her neighbors helping out and staying vigilant.

“This lake is very clean. You can see the bottom it’s so clean and crisp,” she said. “Having something like (the snails) or anything like Eurasian milfoil would kill the lake very fast.”

Berry said three teams have registered so far for this year’s snail roundup.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2tdoQmA

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