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Speaker to propose Zebra mussel prevention strategy

Dick Sternberg

SPICER -- If we're serious about keeping zebra mussels out of the waters of Kandiyohi County, we need to develop power washing decontamination stations for watercraft coming from infested waters, according to Dick Sternberg, a retired fisheries biologist and popular author on all topics fishing.

Sternberg will be the featured speaker for a public meeting at 1 p.m. on April 17 at the Dethlefts Center in Spicer. The meeting is a call for action to prevent zebra mussels from infesting the county's lakes, and is being sponsored by the Kandiyohi County Lakes Association, Middle Fork Crow River Watershed District and Kandiyohi County.

Although decontamination stations would be relatively costly to develop, Sternberg said in a recent telephone interview that they offer the best protection against zebra mussels.

The discovery of zebra mussels last summer in Lake Le Homme Dieu in Douglas County has given new urgency to the efforts to keep the invasive species out of the county's waters. The invasive species are also as close as Lake Mille Lacs and the Mississippi River.

Pointing to his own fishing experience, Sternberg said it's not unusual to start the day fishing in one lake and end it in another only an hour's drive away.

Sternberg served as a fisheries biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources until 1981, when he began writing books on fishing and hunting. He worked with the Green Lake Property Owners Association and local DNR fisheries staff in 2006 to promote walleye recovery efforts in the lake.

Everybody who appreciates the county's lakes -- whether for swimming, boating, fishing or just relaxing along the shorelines -- has a stake in this, according to Sternberg.

Once they infest a lake, zebra mussels attach themselves to virtually every surface and smother native mussels. They gobble up the zooplankton and disrupt the food chain for native fish. Sternberg believes their presence will inevitably harm the populations of popular game fish in the county's lakes.

By filtering the zooplankton, zebra mussels make the waters clear, although not necessarily cleaner, he said. Sternberg is concerned that zebra mussels could allow Eurasian milfoil to expand its range into deeper waters in Green Lake as a result.

They can foul beaches and shorelines with sharp shells and odors.

They reproduce by releasing large numbers of microscopic larva known as veligers into the water. "They are just about impossible to see with the naked eye,'' said Sternberg.

The veligers can be inadvertently transported in live wells, minnow buckets, water intake hoses and virtually any part of a boat or trailer able to hold a few tablespoons of water.

Since they can't readily be seen, Sternberg said relying on visual inspections or the friendly encouragement of watercraft inspectors at lake access points isn't enough.

The most effective strategy is to develop power washing stations where watercraft and trailers can be contaminated, according to Sternberg. A power washing with water at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit can effectively destroy the veligers.

The wash water must also be captured and disinfected, which adds to the costs.

Sternberg sees the stations as part of a strategy based on prevention. He said we should focus our efforts on watercraft coming from the three dozen or so lakes known to be infected, rather than trying to stop their entry at access points on the 11,000 or so other lakes in the state.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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