The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has launched an education and outreach campaign to inform the public about the threats posed by zebra mussels. More than 20 years ago zebra mussels were introduced into the Great Lakes in ship ballast water. Now this non-native, invasive mussel has found its way into Maryland. The mussels were discovered last fall in the Susquehanna River, at and upstream from the Conowingo Dam.
“We want boaters and anglers who use the lower Susquehanna to know that zebra mussels likely now live there,” said Ron Klauda, a biologist with DNR. “We’re again asking everyone to take a few precautionary steps now to hopefully head off the potentially devastating environmental and economic impacts in Maryland that this small, invasive mussel has had in other parts of the country.”
DNR convened a Zebra Mussel Information Exchange in Annapolis in January 2009, where it formed the Mid-Atlantic Zebra Mussel Working Group to continue the discussion on zebra mussel ecology, distribution, monitoring and control technology and to develop a response plan.
The agency recently posted STOP AQUATIC HITCHHIKERS signs at boat ramps and marinas along the Harford and Cecil county sides of the Susquehanna between the Pennsylvania-Maryland border and the river mouth as a part of the response plan.
The large “hot pink” signs ask boaters and anglers to follow these five simple steps before launching and leaving:
(1) REMOVE aquatic plants and mud from your boat, motor and trailer, and put the debris in a trash can (or at least on shore, far from the water).
(2) DRAIN river water from your boat, motor, bilge, bait buckets, live wells and coolers.
(3) DISPOSE of unused live bait on shore far from the water or in a trash can.
(4) RINSE your boat, motor, trailer, live wells, bait buckets, coolers and SCUBA gear with high pressure or hot water.
(5) DRY everything for at least 5 days between outings.
For personal watercraft, impeller areas can harbor zebra mussels and aquatic plants with attached mussels.
When your watercraft is on the trailer, run the engine for 5-10 seconds to blow out excess water and any associated mussels and plants.
Before leaving the area, inspect and REMOVE any zebra mussels, plants, mud, and other debris from the intake, steering nozzle, hull and trailer.
The only place zebra mussels are currently found in Maryland is the lower Susquehanna. Zebra mussels threaten fish and other aquatic life by consuming available food and smothering native mussels. They can ruin boat motors by clogging their cooling systems and jamming steering components. A single female mussel can release up to a million eggs each season, quickly increasing the population. They can encrust walls of intake structures and clog pipes at drinking water facilities and power plants. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calculated economic losses related to zebra mussel infestations at more than $5 billion between 1993 and 1999, not including the costs of ecological damages.
“Nobody can say for sure how zebra mussels found their way into the lower Susquehanna, but experiences with them in other parts of the country have taught us they are effective hitchhikers on boats and trailers,” said Klauda. “We also don’t know how long zebra mussels have been there or if they’ll become established and start to reproduce in great numbers this summer. We are concerned that the mussel population in the lower Susquehanna could take off like they did in the Hudson River back in the early to mid-1990s and we could be dealing with billions by the end of 2010.”
In addition to taking preventive measures to stop the spread, DNR is also asking boaters and anglers to be vigilant and contact the agency if they find anything that they suspect to be zebra mussels in the lower Susquehanna or elsewhere in the state. While young mussels are too small to see, newly settled young feel like fine sand paper on boat hulls and other smooth surfaces. Adult mussels are usually about the size of a fingernail and commonly have alternating dark and light stripes. Anyone spotting a suspected zebra mussel should put it into a zip-lock bag, place a paper label inside containing the collection site and date written in pencil, freeze the bag and its contents and report the finding to DNR toll free at 1-877-6208-DNR extension 8615 or 410-260-8615.
For more information on zebra mussels and other invasive species, visit DNR’s website: www.dnr.maryland.gov/invasives.