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Boaters Warned About Zebra Mussels

As you head to the water this spring, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game asks that you keep an eye out for a small mollusk called the zebra mussel.

The warning is especially critical to those who are purchasing used boats from states east of the Rockies.

Zebra mussels are an invasive species that can take over a water way. They are already wreaking havoc with fisheries and impacting the economy in the Great Lakes states. So far, there has been no confirmation of live zebra mussels in Columbia River Basin waterways, but there have been some close calls in the West. A Montana newspaper article chronicled one such case that happened when a man from Gallatin County, Montana purchased a boat on the internet. He could not understand why he was getting such a good deal on the boat until he went to Michigan to pick it up. That is when he noticed it was covered with a crust of white shellfish that was later confirmed to be zebra mussels.

Even though the mussels that were visible were dead, a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks official warned the boat owner to swab the deck along with every nook and cranny on the boat, especially the bilge area under the deck and live well plumbing. The mussels can survive in small amounts of water and can even live in an environment that is simply humid. If a boat with live zebra mussels makes it to a northwest water way, the result could be an infestation similar to the one in and around the Great Lakes.

Idaho and other western states are already dealing with another invasive creature called the New Zealand mudsnail. This tiny snail can choke out native aquatic life in some streams throughout the west. Like zebra mussels, mudsnails spread rapidly. Fish will eat them, but they provide no nutritional value and could literally cause fish to starve to death.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is working with local volunteer groups as well as Idaho Power to set up a monitoring program that might detect mudsnails, zebra mussels and other invasive species before they are introduced to our waterways. However, reacting to these species after they are here will be expensive and likely to negatively impact boaters. To prevent this from happening, the department asks all boaters to carefully clean all equipment after use. If possible use hot water, and allow your equipment to dry completely before storage or going to other waters.