Mike Hall didn't like what he saw on the hull and lower unit of the 22-foot Bayliner he pulled into his shop July 9.
The owner of Precision Propeller Works had seen a drawing of a zebra mussel on a DNR-posted sign near the Mississippi River. The signs, which alert boaters to the dangers of exotic species, are the DNR equivalent to the postal service's "Most Wanted" posters, and when it comes to exotic species zebra mussels are public enemy No. 1.
Hall suspected these were zebra mussels, so he called Rick Hart, fisheries habitat specialist with the DNR. Hart and two other DNR employees came to the shop, inspected the boat and confirmed Hall's suspicions. The boat, owned by a Maryland couple, was moored on the Mississippi River near Wabasha last summer and stored on land through the winter.
"The DNR was concerned to say the least," said Hall, whose shop recently expanded into the detailing business. "The mussels had died over the winter but they told me I was responsible for getting rid of them."
Hall went to work and three hours later had rid the boat's hull of the last mussel. He also removed the drive shaft to make sure mussels weren't in the cooling system. He cleaned the bilge hold, for mussel larvae can grow in bilge water and later be released by the unsuspecting boater at another site.
"The concern over exotic species and attention to zebra mussels prevented what could have been a very serious situation," said Gary Montz, a DNR research scientist in St. Paul. "This incident shows how easily zebra mussels can be transported across many miles. Keeping them from spreading requires the cooperation of boaters, marina operators and boat repair shop owners.""
Hall said he remains concerned about zebra mussel infestation and will make a point to inspect every boat that enters his shop.
"The DNR visits us pretty regularly anyway," he said. "I realized we had a very serious situation on our hands when they confirmed these were zebra mussels. It's important to get these boats cleaned to avoid situations like this."
State laws prohibit boats with zebra mussels from being transported on Minnesota roads. Even if the mussels are dead they still must be removed before the boat can be transported.
Boat owners should remove all aquatic vegetation and any aquatic animals from their boats when leaving the water. Drain the boat's live wells, bilge holds and bait buckets when leaving waters infested with zebra mussels.
The zebra mussel is a small freshwater clam with a striped shell that ranges in size from one-quarter inch to 1 inch. They are believed to have been carried from the Caspian Sea to the Great Lakes in the ballast water of a ship in 1988. To date, Lake Superior, the Mississippi River from the Twin Cities south and a portion of the St. Croix River are infested. Lake Zumbro, near Rochester, is the only inland lake in Minnesota where zebra mussels have been found.
For more information on zebra mussels, call Montz at (651) 297-4888, or Jay Rendall, exotic species program coordinator, at (651) 297-1464.
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