DAY COUNTY, S.D. (KELO) — Dan Loveland, like all cabin owners or visitors to Pickerel Lake, is learning how to live with zebra mussels. 

Zebra mussels, an invasive species of shell-protected invertebrates, were first confirmed in the northeastern South Dakota lake 13 months ago by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. One year into the infestation, Loveland said it’s not hard for anyone to spot Pickerel Lake’s newest nuisance. 

“The population has just literally exploded,” Loveland told KELOLAND News. “They can easily be found covering rocks near the shoreline and clinging to the legs on docks and boat lifts.” 

Loveland is the current president of the Pickerel Lake Conservancy, an organization formed in 2012 to “protect the water quality, natural resources and ecosystems of Pickerel Lake.” He submitted photos of what the zebra mussel infestation looks like this summer.

On the left, zebra mussels infect rocks in deeper waters. On the right, zebra mussels infect a log near a shoreline.
Photos courtesy Dan Loveland.

The photos show how fast zebra mussels spread on surfaces underwater. 

“All you see is zebra mussels, not the rock,” Loveland said. “The first couple of years, the growth is just phenomenal.”

Along with attaching to boat motors, docks and boat lifts, zebra mussels have been causing some physical injuries to people using the lake. 

“The biggest impact is the number of people who have reported foot injuries,” Loveland said. “Getting cut from the sharp edges of these zebra mussels.” 

On Monday, GFP officials confirmed zebra mussels in Lake Mitchell in Davison County. Zebra mussels are also considered infested in Lake Kampeska, Lake Cochrane, as well as Lake Sharpe and Lewis & Clark Lake, reservoirs of the Missouri River. 

Tanner Davis, the GFP’s statewide aquatic invasive species coordinator, said the zebra mussel infestation affects lakes differently. He said Lake Cochrane hasn’t had an abundance of zebra mussels like Pickerel Lake.

This year, the GFP has conducted more than 13,000 boat inspections in the state according to Davis. He said prevention methods look a little different in eastern South Dakota compared to western South Dakota.

Davis mentioned Enemy Swim Lake, located near Pickerel Lake, has an entrance inspection station for all boats or watercraft before they can enter the lake.

For Pickerel Lake, Davis said the GFP has been working on a strategy for “prevention moving forward.” He said public education is the biggest need for people in the eastern part of South Dakota. He said the GFP has signs, media advertisements at gas stations and social media to remind boaters to “clean, drain, dry.”

Loveland said zebra mussels are still in their first life cycle at Pickerel Lake, but eventually, dead ones will also arrive onshore causing issues on shorelines and beaches. 

“Eventually they kinda level off and you learn to live with them,” he said.  

Water shoes are a must, Loveland said, for anyone walking into the lake or near the shoreline. The GFP is also proposing rule changes regarding zebra mussels including allowing boats, docks or lifts to be removed from infested waters and later launched directly back into the same waterbody without having to remove zebra mussels. 

As far as fishing impacts and ecosystem impacts, Loveland said zebra mussels help make the water on the lake more clear. He said there’s on-going questions about how that’ll impact the fishing on Pickerel Lake, but right now there hasn’t been any issues reported. 

GFP officals have been reminding people it’s important to completely drain a boat to make sure invasive species are not transferred to other waters.

  • Clean watercraft and trailers of all aquatic plants and mud.
  • Drain all water by removing all drains, plugs, bailers, or valves that retain water. Be sure to completely drain your lower unit of any water by lowering completely.
  • Dry all equipment that has made contact with the water before it’s next use.

You can find more information about GFP’s website on invasive species.