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zebra mussels

The zebra mussels keep invading

Can anything stop them?

Zebra mussel

When zebra mussels exploded in the Great Lakes region during the early 1990s, fisheries managers in Texas and many other southern states certainly noticed, but most weren’t overly alarmed.

Yes, the alien freshwater mollusks, native to northern Eurasia and introduced to North America through the ballast water of commercial ships, had quickly become a major environmental and economic problem. Able to reproduce at tremendous rates – a single, fingernail-size mussel can produce a million eggs during spawn – and lacking any significant predators, the mussels swarmed northern waters, triggering considerable negative consequences.

But, evidence suggested, the invasive mussels were likely to remain a regional problem. They were confined to the Great Lakes. The mussels couldn’t transport themselves across scores of miles to infect river systems not directly connected to the infected waters. And, even if they escaped to new waters, the mussels’ relatively small native range was cold-water lakes; the mollusks might be able to live in the upper Midwest but almost certainly would wither and perish in the sultry waters of a southern summer.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Zebra mussels have spread at an alarming rate, thanks mostly to human actions. And the mollusks have proven much more tolerant of warm water than just about anyone suspected. They now are found in at least 30 states. By 2009, they had made it to Texas, first taking hold in Lake Texoma on the Texas/Oklahoma border.

Last week, barely seven years later, Texas fisheries officials announced discovery of zebra mussels in three reservoirs, boosting the number of lakes hosting the potentially devastating invasive species to a dozen spread across the Trinity, Red and Brazos river systems.

One of the new reservoirs on the list is Lake Livingston, the 90,000-acre lake on the Trinity River about 80 miles northeast of Houston. Livingston, a hugely popular fishing destination and a primary water source for the fourth-most populous city in the nation, is the southernmost and easternmost Texas waterbody in which zebra mussels have been documented.

“We knew Lake Livingston could be at risk for zebra mussels, but we were hoping they wouldn’t show up,” said Brian Van Zee, Waco-based regional director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s inland fisheries division. “You don’t want to see any new infestation; there can be a lot of negative consequences.”

Some of those consequences are economic. Zebra mussels reproduce so quickly and in such dense concentrations they can carpet lake bottoms and anything under the water. They attach themselves to water management and transportation infrastructure such gates and pump parts and, especially, intake screens and pipes. The concentrations are so thick they clog and close these crucial systems.

This damage to water infrastructure systems has cost billions nationwide. It has cost hundreds of millions in Texas.

See here and here for some background. The main defense against zebra mussels has been trying to slow their march across the landscape, but that hasn’t been much of a success, and recent flooding appears to have helped them spread out to new locations. I hope someone’s thinking of a way to try and control their population, because we’re beginning to run out of places where they haven’t yet invaded.

Make sure you check for zebra mussels

New boating rules are in effect in an effort to combat the spread of zebra mussels.

Zebra mussel

Starting on [July 1], boaters are going to have to take an extra step to clean their vessels if they want to cruise around on different lakes. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says people will have to drain all the water in and on the boat before going to a new body of water in Texas.

The department is worried about the spread of Zebra Mussels and other invasive species. The state says it grows to be about one-and-a-half inches and will have a zebra-stripped shell. The problem is it can also have a million microscopic larvae which like to hide on boats and trailers.

“Unfortunately zebra mussels have a microscopic larval stage that when they get in the water you can’t see and if you have a bunch of water taken out of one lake and you go to the next and you can transport the zebra mussels and that’s one of the main ways they get transported is by boats from lake to lake,” says Ken Kurzawski, Inland Fisheries Division, Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Zebra Mussels can clog public-water intake pipes, harm boats and motors if they’re left untreated. It can cover boat hulls if boats and motors are left in infested waters. Zebra mussels can also block water-cooling systems and pester lake property owners by covering anything that’s under water.

[…]

CLEAN DRAIN AND DRY

  • Clean boats, personal watercraft, kayaks, canoes, sail boats and other water vessels
  • Remove parts and clean
  • Drain all the water from motor, bilge, live wells and bait buckets before leaving lake
  • Dry boats and trailers for a week before going to another body of water
  • Use high-pressure washer with hot water, 140 degrees, and soapy water

The Parks and Wildlife Department also says people fishing also have to be careful. More information is listed on the state’s website.

See here for the background. The Express News has more information.

Texas Invasives, a partnership of “state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, green industry, academia and other private and public stakeholders who share in the common goal of protecting Texas from the threat of invasive species,” has information on their website for boaters for how the new law effects them, including tips on how to stop the spread invasive species. It offers advice on how to properly clean and take care of any vessel, and how boaters can report a sighting.

According to Texas Invasives, possession or transportation of zebra mussels is a class C misdemenor for the first offense carrying a fine of up to $500. Repeat offenders could face a class B misdemenor, a fine of up to $2,000, up to 180 days in jail, or both.

Here’s the Texas Invasives website. Those of you going out boating this weekend, please pay heed. We all can do a part to stop the spread of these invasives.

Eat ’em all up

It sure would be nice to think that we could solve our invasive species problems by eating them all, but we probably can’t.

Would you want this for dinner?

It seems like a simple proposition: American lakes, rivers and offshore waters are filling up with destructive fish and crustaceans originally from other parts of the world, many of them potential sources of food.

So why not control these invasive populations by getting people to eat them?

The idea has gained momentum recently from the lionfish, which invaded the Gulf of Mexico but was successfully marketed to restaurants and today appears to be in decline.

But businesses and scientists have struggled to repeat this apparent triumph with other species. Some, such as Asian carp, are not appetizing to Americans. Others, like feral hogs, reproduce too quickly to make a dent. And then there’s the question of whether turning them into sought-after cuisine undermines the larger goal of eliminating them.

“Eating invasive species is not a silver bullet,” said Laura Huffman, the Nature Conservancy’s director in Texas. But it can still be “a way to get people engaged in the topic and in the solution.”

The lionfish, a striped saltwater species with a flowing mane of venomous spines, is native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean and was first spotted in parts of the Gulf and off the East Coast a little more than 10 years ago. The skilled predators damage reefs and devour native fish, and they are eaten only by sharks — or larger lionfish.

People soon learned that beneath the lionfish’s spiky skin lies a buttery, flaky meat that is perfect for ceviche, taco filler or as an alternative to lobster. After a few years of intense fishing and brisk fillet sales, the population is dropping.

But similar efforts targeting feral hogs, Asian carp and the Himalayan blackberry have been far less successful.

This subject comes up a lot, mostly in the context of feral hogs. Indeed, two years ago Texas Monthly proposed a culinary solution to our invasive species problem. It’s worked pretty well for lionfish and giant prawns, but some invasives just aren’t that appetizing, while the aforementioned hogs just reproduce too much to make an appreciable dent in their population that way. Plus, as the story notes, turning invasive species into a cash crop provides for some perverse economic incentives, and likely isn’t a net winner. Make some lemonade if you can, but don’t expect it to be more than that.

Look out for zebra mussels

Take proper care of your boat, y’all.

Zebra mussel

Fishing and boating enthusiasts take note: you’re probably going to need a little extra time as you head out on the lake this year. Rules to prevent the spread of the invasive zebra mussel will be going into effect statewide.

“All boats operating on public fresh water anywhere in Texas be drained before leaving or approaching a lake or river,” according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TWDB).

The mussels have spread rapidly since 2009, and now “the Highland Lakes are in the cross hairs, as are many of the public waters in Central Texas,” says Brian Van Zee, Parks and Wildlife Inland Fisheries Division regional director, in a statement.

The rules will go into effect July 1.

[…]

The rules originally applied to 17 North Texas counties. Now they’re being expanded along the I-35 corridor to try and beat the mussels before the spread further. “The Interstate Highway 35 corridor, which traverses the basins of the Trinity, Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe rivers, facilitates relatively easy movement of vessels by large numbers of boaters and anglers,” the commission writes, so it’s the route by which the mussels are most likely to spread.

The mussel is originally from Eurasia, and has traveled across Europe, “where it is considered to be a major environmental and industrial menace,” the department writes. It first showed up on our shores in the late 1980s, and within a decade “it had colonized in all five Great Lakes and the Mississippi, Tennessee, Hudson, and Ohio river basins.” The department says that once the invasives establish themselves, “they are impossible to eradicate with the technology available today.” And you can’t eat them, either.

See here for more. It’s likely a futile effort, but what else can you do? Preserving Texas’ natural resources is everyone’s job.

Watch out for snails

The invasive species keep coming, and there’s only so much we can do about it.

Would you want this as a pet?

Ominous red dots pepper the war room maps, and the story they tell is ugly. Foreign enemies are advancing on Texas by the millions – by wing, by foot and free ride. They are coming to chomp, sting, slime and clog, and in their arrival’s wake lies the prospect of devastation and disease.

In the advance guard are zebra mussels, Russian immigrants that have vanquished Michigan lake species and clogged water intake pipes with their concreted shells; red-streaked leafhoppers capable of transmitting devastating disease to sugar cane; and giant east African snails, rat-size intruders with voracious appetites for more than 500 varieties of plants.

The mussels, which colonized 100 Michigan waterways in just 25 years, have hit the Trinity River in Denton County. The leafhoppers, natives of Australia, Asia and the Mediterranean, are in the Rio Grande Valley and marching across Texas to Louisiana sugar fields. The snails, known to charm unwary humans with their soulful eyes and mucilaginous good looks, have landed in Austin.

Enter Sam Houston State University’s Institute for the Study of Invasive Species, a consortium of biologists from four universities whose mission is to track, analyze and defeat the nastiest of nonnative plants, animals, insects and microbes that imperil the state’s well-being.

In the war between Texas and voracious invaders, the institute may be the best hope.

“The scope is giant,” says institute Director Jerry Cook. “The truth is, we don’t know how much damage is being done. Texas is a big state. We have the longest border with Mexico. We have major highways along which invasive species can travel. We have Chihuahuan desert to piney woods and everything in between.”

[…]

Also of concern are zebra mussels, which likely traveled to the Trinity River via contaminated boats, and the giant African snails, which, although illegal to possess, have been dispersed through the pet trade.

The snails, which can grow to 8 inches, arrived in Miami in 1966. Within seven years of being released in a garden, 18,000 of the creatures were munching their way across Florida.

“We like to say they’re ‘rat-sized,’ ” says Smith-Herron, emphasizing the intruder’s least-endearing quality. “The problem is that people think they have cute eyes.”

Yes, someone thought that a giant African snail would make a good pet, and the ne=xt thing you know they’re wreaking havoc on ecosystems across the country. Don’t be a part of the problem, OK? Hair Balls has more.