Boat owners are urged to clean, drain and dry all watercraft after use at any body of water to prevent the spread of invasive species like zebra mussels.
Zebra mussels are believed to have arrived in North America as a stowaway in freshwater ballasts in commercial vessels from Europe sometime around 1986. The mussel was first discovered in the Great Lakes in Lake St. Clair in June 1988. Since then, the transport of the zebra mussel throughout much of North America has taken place and has spread to many waterways in the U.S. and Canada.
A zebra mussel is an aquatic invasive species that looks like a D-shaped clam, with alternating light and dark bands. Young zebra mussels are too small to see with the naked eye, so they can easily be transported unintentionally. Most zebra mussels are less than an inch long at maturity. Adults form large, dense colonies attaching themselves to any hard surfaces; once this happens damage to boating equipment, docks, dams, water treatment plants, irrigation pipes can occur and can be costly to repair. These mussels also filter large quantities of plankton from water, decreasing the food supply for native fish species. Mussels increase water clarity, causing increases in unwanted vegetation and can create a hazard on swimming areas with their sharp shells.
The counterpart to the zebra mussel is the quagga mussel, which have not been found in Nebraska to date. This mussel is usually pale and may have colored bands or bars, sometimes with a few stripes but lack a flat edge like the zebra mussel. The characteristics of both species is about the same and can have the same detrimental impacts in waterways.
Larval stage and adults can spread between waters when transported in the simplest of ways; bait buckets, live wells, bilge water or attached to a boat hull, motor, trailers and other equipment including life jackets. Zebra mussel larvae and adults can survive out of water for up to 30 days making them easily transmitted if recreationalists and anglers travel to different water bodies with boating equipment. Boats include any vessels that come in contact with the water; paddle boards, kayaks, canoes and paddleboats can all become transporters of unwanted mussels and other invasive and harmful hitchhikers.
These mussels could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year and possibly close down access to state waters for recreation opportunities. They clog water intake pipes and filters, reducing water pumping capabilities for power and water treatment facilities and irrigation pipes — once established they are virtually impossible to get rid of. There are no effective treatments to control zebra mussels once they have infested a water body other than draining it to allow the mussels to either dry out or freeze.
There are three waterbodies infested with zebra mussels in Nebraska. The Missouri River has an expanding zebra mussel population along its entire length downstream of Gavins Point Dam. Boats using the river are the likely source of introduction. Lewis and Clark Lake near Yankton, South Dakota, Lake Yankton and the Offutt Base Lake in Bellevue all have established zebra mussel populations.
Carter Lake in Omaha is the only suspect waterbody, which means only a single water sample has been found to contain zebra mussel larvae.
Glenn Cunningham Lake in Omaha underwent a mussel eradication effort in late 2018 to freeze and kill a newly established zebra mussel colony after adults were confirmed in July 2018. The waterbody was renovated and naturally refilled in 2020. Regular monitoring for zebra mussels will continue at this lake.
In Nebraska, most major reservoirs are sampled yearly for zebra mussels. All water bodies that are suspect to invasive mussels have five samples collected in May and June and two per month in July, August and September. If no adults or additional larvae are found after three years of sampling, the suspect lake will be delisted. The lake will be listed as an infested water body if an adult zebra mussel is found.
It is important not to transport any lake or river water, mud, or plant material away from its source as that could transport aquatic invasive species to another water body.
Boaters and anglers are encouraged to use the clean, drain and dry protocol on all boats before launching in another waterbody to prevent the spread of invasive mussels. These invasive mussels can be transported by life vests, paddles, ropes, minnow buckets or anything that has come in contact with the water. Zebra mussels are a real threat to Nebraska waters — as responsible recreationalists and anglers, please do your part and help protect our precious Nebraska water systems.
» Clean: After boating, before you leave the launch, remove all visible plants, animals, fish and mud from your boat, trailer or other equipment and dispose of in a suitable trash container or on dry land. Don’t transport any potential hitchhiker, even back to your home. Remove and leave them at the site you visited.
» Drain: After boating, before you leave the launch: drain water from bilge, live wells, ballast tanks and any other locations with water before leaving the launch. Invasive viruses, zooplankton and juvenile zebra mussels and Asian clams can be transported in even just a drop of water.
» Dry: Before you arrive at the launch to go boating, dry your boat, trailer and all equipment completely. Drying times vary depending on the weather and the type of material. At least five days drying time is recommended.
For more information about zebra mussels, visit neinvasives.com. Report any suspected observation of zebra mussels to Game and Parks at 402-471-5553.