Lake Winnipeg’s future worries Manitoba’s fishing industry after zebra mussel invasion

Click to play video: 'Aquatic invasive species in Lake Winnipeg'
Aquatic invasive species in Lake Winnipeg
A family who's fished on Lake Winnipeg for more than a century has seen the impact of zebra mussels since they were first detected 10 years ago. Rosanna Hempel reports on the damage they worry other invasive species could do – May 10, 2023

A new species is making its home in Lake Winnipeg, leaving fishers and local residents worried.

Zebra mussels are seen as an invasive species in Manitoba’s largest lake, clogging up fishing boats, nets, and ropes. The government of Canada defines the species as invasive, seen not just along Lake Winnipeg but the Red River and even the Nelson River.

On their site, it’s noted that the mussels attach themselves to solid surfaces and breed quickly. They are “filter feeders,” reads the site, and negatively impact other species by competing for their food.

“We’re kind of in the infancy of dealing with this in Lake Winnipeg, so we’re not quite sure how this is going to play out for the commercial fishing industry,” said Chris Kristjason, a commercial fisherman.

“I’m not maybe so worried about what’s happening now, but what’s coming.”

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Kristjason said his family has been fishing at the lake since 1891. While he’s accepted that the mussels are here to stay, he’s worried about other aquatic invasive species — like the Asian carp and the quagga mussel.

“If the lake gets that sick is when we’re going to really have to look at what we’re doing on the land closer, because we can’t fix what’s in the water already, but we can maybe control what’s happening on the land that’s coming into the water,” Kristjason said.

Candace Parks, an aquatic invasive species specialist, said that unlike the zebra mussel, quagga mussels might fare even better in the province. It’s already overtaken them, she said, as the most invasive species in the Great Lakes.

“The best thing to do now is for people to do the proper steps so we can protect the majority of the water,” Parks said.

Parks noted it’s necessary to clean, drain and dry your watercraft. This, she said, could contain and prevent the spread of such invasive species.

Kristjason’s son, Trevor, is now focused on his future. Like his father, he too is a fisherman.

His future, he said, consists of navigating the lake’s health and its fish population.

“I just don’t want to see anything happen here. We’re in a situation where I wish we would have done something about (it) decades ago,” Trevor said. “That unfortunately seems to be the way that we manage our water here.”

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Click to play video: 'Feds, province team up for work on improving quality of Lake Winnipeg'
Feds, province team up for work on improving quality of Lake Winnipeg

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