Zebra mussels are poster child of invasive species

Zebra mussels are poster child of invasive species
World-Herald News Service

Clean, drain and dry.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission wants to keep reminding anyone with a boat or a bait bucket about the crucial practice.

It’s the biggest weapon in fighting the spread of zebra mussels. Dave Tunink, the fisheries assistant division administrator, calls them the poster child of invasive species, of which there are many.

Few have the impact of zebra mussels, which arrived in the United States from Europe for the first time in the 1980s, traveling in the ballast water of ships.

The detection of microscopic young zebra mussels — veligers — in a Carter Lake water sample last week isn’t just bad news for fishermen. The species can affect recreational boaters, swimmers and consumers of water and electricity.

“They are a colony organization; they live together,” Tunink said. “They can attach and clog pipes, anything in the water.”

That means increased maintenance for power and water treatment facilities. A gate or outlet structure won’t work if it’s buried in zebra mussels.

Boats that have sat in infested water all summer will be encrusted.

“It’s going to take money to clean them up,” Tunink said. “They live in the motor, too, in the water pump. The mechanic is going to charge more work to clean it all out.”

As mussels die, their sharp shells make it too dangerous to walk barefoot on beaches.

They’re bad news for anglers, too, because they compete with fish for food, especially young ones.

There are no effective treatments to control zebra mussels once they have infested a water body other than draining the body to low levels to allow the mussels to dry out or freeze.

The Missouri River has an expanding zebra mussel population along its entire length downstream of Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, South Dakota. Boats using both the river and Carter Lake are the likely source of introduction. Lewis and Clark Lake, Lake Yankton and the Offutt Base Lake are the only other Nebraska waters that have established zebra mussel populations. Omaha’s Zorinsky Lake is a suspect water body, with one positive veliger sample collected last year.

It takes just a drop. Mussels can live in the water that sloshes at the bottom of a boat or in the live well where fish are kept.

That’s where the motto clean, drain and dry comes in.

“Dry out anything wet in the boat,” Tunink said. “Wipe it down and make sure it dries.”

A towel will eliminate the young mussels, which are easy to kill.

Tunink reminds anglers not to transport water from one lake to another, which is an easy way to spread an invasive species.

Most fishermen know the dangers, because they see information about it frequently in the Game and Parks’ Nebraska fishing guide. But it’s not the same with recreational boaters.

“It’s hard to contact them as easily as it is a fisherman,” Tunink said.

That’s why it’s worth repeating.

Clean, drain and dry.

Young angler receives 250-plus cards

Charlie Bennett, the young Pleasant Dale angler who was burned in an accident earlier this summer, is ready to head back to school this week.

Skin grafts on his right thigh and upper right arm and shoulder were successful and he was recently able to ride his bike.

Since news spread of his injuries, the 12-year-old has gotten more than 250 cards and packages, with some including fishing lures, money and gift cards, a fishing blanket, dog toys, eclipse glasses and pictures of people with their biggest catches. Cards have come from as far away as Florida and Texas.

An Omaha woman baked him cookies in the shape of fish and bobbers. Right before his skin graft surgery on July 24, a helicopter medic unit out of Greeley, Colorado, made him an honorary co-pilot.

“His favorite part was just getting the cards and seeing what people wrote. It makes his day,” said his father, Mitch. “It’s the first thing he wants to do when he wakes up. ‘Let’s go get the mail.’ ”

Mitch Bennett wanted to thank everyone for the cards and gifts his son has received.

“It’s just amazing the generosity of people,” he said.

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