Published December 04, 2009, 09:18 AM

Zebra mussels: It's not all gloom and doom

There are many misconceptions about zebra mussels. And one of Doug Jensen’s goals is to dispel those myths.

By: Celeste Beam, Northland Outdoors

There are many misconceptions about zebra mussels.

And one of Doug Jensen’s goals is to dispel those myths.

Jensen, an aquatic species program coordinator with Minnesota Sea Grant, spoke in front of a large group Tuesday night at the Douglas County Public Works Building about zebra mussels, as well as other aquatic invasive species.

One of the first myths is that zebra mussels will kill a lake.

“Zebra mussels are not the death of a lake,” Jensen stated. “A lake may change drastically, but zebra mussels won’t kill our lakes.”

Zebra mussels were discovered in the Alexandria lakes area this past June – first in Lake L’Homme Dieu and more recently in Lake Geneva and Lake Carlos.

A total of seven Douglas County lakes were designated as infested waters after the first initial discovery. The lakes on the infested waters list include L’Homme Dieu, Jessie, Victoria, Geneva, Carlos, Darling and Alvin.

Jensen said zebra mussels are not the only invasive species that communities need to worry about.

“There are a whole host of others,” he said. “Tens of thousands of species out there.”

He listed several others, including spiny and fishhook waterfleas, flowering rush, rusty crayfish, purple loosestrife, bighead and silver carp and Eurasian watermilfoil.

One of the best ways to keep aquatic invasive species in check, said Jensen, is to interrupt pathways and stop aquatic hitchhikers.

A couple of other myths that Jensen touched on included:

•“It’s only a matter of time before our lakes are ruined.”

He said the reality is there is time and that the more people become aware of these invasive species, learn about them and watch for them, the better. Education is key, he said.

•“The spread of invasive species is inevitable.”

Jensen said this is simply not true. Again, he said, people need to learn what to look for and take the necessary precautions to help stop the spread of these species.

•Shutting down accesses will prevent the spread. Jensen simply stated, “This is not true.”

Jensen also talked about some truths when it came to zebra mussels. Here is what he said:

•They do not kill lakes.

•They do not clean water, but help clear water.

•They don’t swim upstream.

•They can sometimes be eradicated – but not in the Alexandria lakes area because there are too many.

•Not all lakes in Douglas County will become infested with zebra mussels. He said they need to be contained, but would not get into every single lake in the county.

“Here’s another fact,” said Jensen. “Zebra mussels will spread if you do nothing.”

He hopes that having community members come together is a “rally cry” and that something will be done to help the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species.

Educating the public, including businesses, lakeshore homeowners, fishing tournament organizers, resort owners, timeshare holders and state park employees and visitors, is key, noted Jensen.

“Knowing how they spread is very important,” he said. “Learning what they look like, what to look for and where to look are also important.”

Jensen touched on some of the next steps that can be done, besides education, including the possibility of having citizen monitoring for the absence or presence of zebra mussels, establishing a permitting system, training volunteers to help with boat inspections, implementing more enforcement and fines and the possibility of boat washing stations.

As for tournaments, Jensen said it is a sensitive issue in this area because some folks feel tournaments should be banned, while others feel they need heavier monitoring.

He suggested that when tournaments are held, organizers and sponsors of the tournaments should be contacted and told of the zebra mussels and that contestants should also be informed of the problem.

At tournaments, trained volunteers could play a crucial role and help monitor lake accesses.

Jensen talked briefly about the pros and cons of boat washing stations, noting that they can be expensive and in most areas where they were used, the stations have been discontinued.

Boat washing stations can be useful when used appropriately, he added.

Another viable option, he said is to post flyers at boat accesses with maps indicating the closest car washes that boaters can use instead.

Jensen also promoted the “Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers” program, which is a national campaign that helps recreational users to become part of the solution in stopping the transport and spread of aquatic invasive species.

Jensen noted that the Douglas County Lakes Association is a member of the program. He encouraged everyone to become members of the free campaign.

For more information about the program, visit its website at www.protectyourwaters.net.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

According to the Minnesota Sea Grant’s website, here’s what you can do about zebra mussels:

Learn to recognize what they are.

Inspect and remove aquatic plants, animals and mud from boat, motor and trailer.

Drain water from boat, motor, livewell, bilge and bait containers.

Dispose of unwanted live bait and worms in the trash.

Rinse boat and equipment with high pressure and/or hot water – at least 104 degrees Fahrenheit, especially if moored for over a day or dry everything for at least five days.

Never introduce fish, plants, crayfish, snails or clams from one body of water to another.

Report new sightings, noting location. Place specimen in a sealed plastic bag or store in rubbing alcohol. Call the Department of Natural Resources Invasive Species Program at 1-888-MINNDNR (6466-367).

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