It spreads quickly and it’s hard to stop. We’re not talking about the pandemic. This time, we’re referring to a zebra mussel. It’s an invasive species that can overwhelm lakes, harm other mussels and fish that originated there, as well as damage boats, boat ramps, and docks. Just last Friday, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks confirmed they’re in Pickerel Lake.
“We’re going to try to get on the water a little bit,” Nick Herrick said.
There’s not much that can hide in Pickerel Lake.
“The water quality here is so nice. You can see the bottom from where we’re standing,” Herrick said.
Herrick is uncovering more than just his boat for an afternoon joy ride. He’s learning there are unwanted visitors at the place he’s called his lake home for three decades: zebra mussels.
“Kind of a scary name in itself,” Herrick said.
A zebra mussel isn’t exactly a horror movie, but it can be a real nightmare for lake lovers like Herrick. Game Fish and Parks found one while taking water samples. It marks the first confirmed sighting in the northeast, glacial lakes region. Area fisheries supervisor, Mark Ermer, says you can count on this: if there’s one, there’s more.
“These things can be very explosive,” Ermer said.
The one GF&P found appears to be the size of an adult mussel.
“That’s not one that likely started growing at the beginning of this season. So, it’s probably been in here since last year,” Ermer said.
Ermer says the infestation will grow and continue. Now, you may have some questions. So does Herrick. Ermer has some answers.
“What’s the lasting impact?” Herrick said.
“There will be encrusted boat lifts that are in all season long. Any boat that would sit in the water for a long period of time. They will probably get encrusted on the bottom. Their motors, the props,” Ermer said.
“How do you get rid of them?” Herrick said.
“Once you get them in your lake, you’re probably not going to be able to get rid of them.” Ermer said.
That means it’s up to boaters to prevent the spread. Here’s how you can keep zebra mussels out of other lakes and rivers. Ermer says you have to clean, drain, and dry your boat. Clean off anything that may be stuck on it, pull your boat’s plug, and then dry any remaining water in or on the boat. Also, zebra mussels are very sharp and can easily cut someone who walks on them.
Even though Herrick has unwanted visitors in his beloved Pickerel Lake, he’s not going to hide from the problem. After all, he was here first.
“We’re not going to leave. We’re not going to go anywhere,” Herrick said.