The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) needs volunteers to sample the state's lakes and rivers for zebra mussels, a non-native nuisance species that could threaten native fish and wildlife, clog power plant and public water intakes, and damage boats.
Volunteers with boats or shoreline property are most in need, although anyone interested can help. Boaters are needed to tow specially designed plankton nets to collect samples that are analyzed for evidence of zebra mussel "veligers," the larval, free-floating, non-shell form of the species. Shoreline property owners are needed to suspend bricks or tiles off docks or shorelines, checking them regularly for any attachments of mussels. Other volunteers can walk beaches or shorelines looking for rocks or other materials with attached mussels.
Some WDFW biologists are volunteering time above and beyond their normal work for plankton net tows in various waters, according to Pamala Meacham, WDFW's Aquatic Nuisance Species Assistant Coordinator. The Spokane Tribe has also volunteered to sample nine sites along Lake Roosevelt and the Grant and Chelan County Public Utility Districts are sampling eight to 12 sites each along the Columbia River.
"But we need help on those and other waters from many more people who are concerned about protecting Washington's fisheries and water systems," Meacham said. "So far we have no evidence of zebra mussels in our waters, but we need to be on top of the situation if they're ever found because they spread so quickly and can be so costly to handle."
Zebra mussels are native to the Black, Caspian and Aral Seas and were first introduced to the Great Lakes in 1986 in ships' ballast water. They quickly spread and are now found in at least 20 eastern states and two Canadian provinces. They have been found on trailered boats entering California. They spread by attaching to boats and other water based recreational equipment and fishing gear that have been in zebra mussel-infested waters and not cleaned before being launched in other waters.
Zebra mussels are normally only about as big as a fingernail, although they can grow to two inches. Their common name comes from their alternating dark and light stripes. The young are too small to see but can be felt on boats and found in plants tangled on propellers or trailers. Adults can be seen attached in clusters to hard surfaces like water pipes and boats. They can be found in boat bilges, live wells, and motors.
Zebra mussels threaten native fish and wildlife by consuming available food and smothering native mussels.
Boat owners, shoreline property owners, fishers and fishing clubs, and other interested parties can volunteer for zebra mussel monitoring by calling Meacham at 360- 902-2741 in Olympia.