“Lake Winnipeg is not dead”: expert on zebra mussels

WINNIPEG — They have the potential to completely carpet the bottom of lakes, clog pipes and boat motors, and deplete certain types of fish.

While zebra mussels are a growing concern on Lake Winnipeg and neighboring bodies of water, one local researcher says that doesn’t mean people should throw up their hands and say it’s a lost cause.

“Zebra mussels invaded Lake Erie in 1986, they are still there….and the fishery in Lake Erie is doing very well,” Scott Higgins said. “Water quality has some issues in western Lake Erie, partially it’s related to zebra mussels but in large parts it’s not.  Many of these are the same problems we face in Lake Winnipeg.”

The researcher with the International Institute for Sustainable Development Experimental Lakes Area says the impact of zebra mussels varies from lake to lake.  He says Lake Erie has struggled with algae blooms, while the salmon fishery on Lake Huron has seen what he calls “a total collapse.”

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“We are going to see some changes in Lake Winnipeg, and not all of them are going to be good,” Higgins said. “Lake Winnipeg isn’t dead and there are a whole number of lakes around Lake Winnipeg that deserve protecting.”

He says that’s why it’s important for the public to make sure the mussels aren’t spread between lakes by hitching a ride on watercraft or float planes and for government to step up their role.

It’s something commercial fisher Robert Kristjanson says he’s been pushing for, for decades.

“It is a monster. A monster.  And we are going to have to look at what we are doing with our boats,” Kristjanson said.

His family has been fishing on Lake Winnipeg since the 1890’s and in his travels throughout the Great Lakes Kristjanson said he witnessed the damage zebra mussels can do. Everything from filling up fish nets, to washing ashore beaches by the thousands when they die.

It’s why he’s appealing to not just government, but anglers, to clean their boats before moving into another lake.

“When are we going to smarten up? When are you going to smarten up?” Kristjanson said.

The province is planning to invest another $500,000 next year to help contain the spread through increased inspections, decontamination units, and education.

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How that will work is still being determined by conservation officials.

Gimli mayor Randy Woroniuk says that plan should also include how lakeside communities and industry clean up zebra mussels.

“Containment is fine but now we’re worried about infrastructure, we are worried about tourism, we are worried about the fishing industry.  We need commitment from government, all levels of government, on how we are going to address this,” Woroniuk said.

In Ontario up to $90 million is spent annually to fend of zebra mussels, and clean the infrastructure they cling to.

This is the third of a three story series focused on zebra mussels and the damage they can do

FIRST: Could trillions of zebra mussels be in Manitoba’s future?

SECOND: If you think zebra mussels are bad, experts say quagga mussels could be far worse for Manitoba

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