Zebra mussels found in Lake Elsie pose hazard to ecosystem

A map of zebra mussel-infested waters in North Dakota.

Invasive zebra mussels were discovered in Lake Elsie over Labor Day weekend, according to a release from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Further testing around the lake found zebra mussels at different locations and at various stages of life.

Lake Elsie is now designated as a Class I Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Infested Water, according to the press release.

“Emergency rules will go into effect immediately to prohibit the movement of water away from the lake, including water for transferring bait,” the release stated.

Zebra mussels are a Class I ANS, meaning they’re highly invasive and there are no adequate ways to manage an infestation once it begins.

“Zebra mussels negatively impact ecosystems in many ways. They filter out algae that native species need for food and they attach to and incapacitate native mussels. Power plants must also spend millions of dollars removing zebra mussels from clogged water intakes,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Zebra mussels are able to consume nutrients in the water faster than other organisms, reducing competitor populations. In other cases, zebra mussels can completely encrust organisms like crayfish.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated Zebra mussels will have an economic impact of approximately $5 billion in the next decade in the Great Lakes region where they originally arrived in the late 1980s.

Zebra mussels are native to the Caspian Sea.

According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department zebra mussel infestations have also been found in:

• Lake LaMoure and the James River — Dickey County

• Twin Lake — LaMoure County

• Lake Ashtabula — Barnes County

• Red River — entire length of the Red River including tributaries upstream to the first vehicular bridge or crossing

• Sheyenne River — entire length starting at Baldhill Dam in Barnes County, downstream to the Red River including tributaries upstream to the first vehicular bridge or crossing.

To stop the spread of zebra mussels and other invasive species North Dakota regulations require boaters to:

• Remove aquatic vegetation before leaving the water access and do not import into North Dakota.

• Drain all water before leaving the water access.

• Remove drain plugs and devices that hold back water and leave open and out during transport.

• Do not import bait. For Class I ANS Infested waters, bait cannot be transported in water. In all other areas, bait must be transported in a container that holds 5 gallons or less. It is illegal to dump unused bait on shore or into the lake.

In addition to these requirements the North Dakota Game and Fish Department recommends against mooring boats in zebra mussel infested waters.

The department also recommends cleaning boats thoroughly, draining all water and drying them after use.

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