Zebra Mussels

Zebra Mussels – a threat to Saskatchewan’s waterways

A serious threat to Saskatchewan’s watersheds is at our province’s doorstep — the zebra mussel.

Zebra mussels have already caused millions of dollars in damage in the northern United States and throughout Ontario’s Great Lakes. Recent discoveries in South Dakota indicate zebra mussels are moving ever closer to Saskatchewan. We need your help to prevent their spread to our provincial waterways.

What is a zebra mussel?

Zebra mussels look similar to other types of clams or mussels and typically measure between three to five centimetres in size. They have a distinct striped colouration with alternating dark brown stripes on a cream to light brown background.

What damage can zebra mussels cause?

Though small in size, zebra mussels can cause huge problems in our provincial lakes and rivers:

  • Because of their large appetite for algae and other microscopic organisms, they can permanently alter lake ecosystems and food chains. When a food chain is disrupted, it can lead to a decline in sport fish stocks.
  • They can clog the cooling systems of boat motors.
  • They can clog intake pipes used to supply water to cottages, cities and major industries

Zebra mussels multiply rapidly. A single female mussel can produce up to one million eggs in a summer spawning period! Since they originate in Europe, zebra mussels have few natural predators in North America and none can keep up with their rapid rate of reproduction. The best way to protect our watersheds from the damage caused by zebra mussels, is to prevent them from invading our lakes and rivers.

Zebra mussels attach themselves to hard surfaces and often use pipes as habitat because there is always a constant flow of water and food. Zebra mussel colonies can grow to more than 10 centimetres thick and can end up blocking the pipes where they reside. Blocked pipes can cause serious damage for any system that requires water flow, such as drinking water systems and electrical generating facilities. Retrofitting the systems to control zebra mussel growth could cost taxpayers and industry millions of dollars.

How will zebra mussels affect you?

Aside from the problems already mentioned, zebra mussels can ruin your boat engine by blocking the cooling system, causing your engine to overheat. They can jam steering components and, if they attach to the bottom of your boat the drag will increase, causing you to burn more fuel. You may also have to scrape and paint the bottom of your boat more frequently.

How would zebra mussels get here?

The primary way zebra mussels travel between sites is by attaching themselves to the under-side of a boat, or boat trailer, or by hitching a ride in bilge water and live wells. Removing your boat from the water may not kill zebra mussels. In humid conditions, they can live up to 10 days out of water. Zebra mussels can also remain in a larval stage in your boat’s cooling system until you re-start your boat in a different water body.

What can I do to prevent the spread of zebra mussels?

Even if zebra mussels aren’t obvious, please be sure to take the following preventative actions each time you move your boat to a new lake or river:

  • Wash the hull of your boat with hot, soapy water.
  • Drain all water from your boat, live well, bilge and bait buckets before you leave. Once you return home, wash and rinse with hot, soapy water.
  • Flush your engine with hot water.
  • Wash your trailer with hot, soapy water, then rinse with hot water.
  • Dispose of all live bait, other than earthworms or night crawlers, in a proper disposal site before entering Saskatchewan.
  • Leave your boat out in hot, dry weather for three to five days, then scrape off any remaining rough spots on the hull.
  • Be sure to carry out these activities on dry land and away from any water body.

The zebra mussel could be a costly invader to the province of Saskatchewan, but we can each do our part to prevent its spread. By working together, we can help to maintain the health of our provincial waterways and do our best to keep Saskatchewan zebra mussel-free.