MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s the first day of a new job for Erik Ziegler. The Vermillion College student is on summer break, and working the front line of Minnesota’s war against zebra mussels.
“If you sell a boat, a trailer or a lift and someone else buys it, I mean, [zebra mussels] can even be transported to another lake and it will just spread like wildfire,” Ziegler said.
He is one of nearly 150 new boat inspectors hired by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Concerned by how rapidly zebra mussels are spreading, the DNR is doubling the number of watercraft inspection and decontamination stations.
“We’re still seeing a violation rate that we’re not happy with,” says DNR Enforcement Captain Greg Salo.
Since the invasive mussel was first discovered in the Duluth harbor in 1988, carried in by ocean going vessels, zebra mussels are transforming the natural biology of 172 Minnesota lakes and rivers.
The infested waterways include some of the state’s most popular and pristine, including Mille Lacs, Gull, Winnibigoshish, Pelican and the Whitefish Chain of lakes.
The small mussels have extremely sharp shells that cut the feet of swimmers. Because they are filter feeders, the zebra mussels strip the lakes and rivers of nutrients and food that smaller aquatic animals depend on to keep the food chain in balance.
“The shocking part so far this spring we’ve had 85 cases of people transporting zebra mussels, caught by our watercraft inspectors,” Salo said.
Boaters like Al Teusch know the stakes are high if they are to protect the lakes for future generations of anglers.
“It’s worth it to protect the lakes and keep the aquatics and all the zebra mussels from going to other lakes, so I’m happy that they’re doing it,” Teusch said.
Violators caught transporting zebra mussels on their boats and trailers risk a citation and fine of $500 per incidence.