Invasive Mussel Hurting Great Lakes Fish Population
Posted November 23, 2007
MUSKEGON (Newschannel 3) - They are invasive, living in Lake Michigan, and spreading a lot faster than anyone's prepared for, which is causing quite a challenge for fisherman.
Some call them the "rabbits of the aquatic world." They are a breed of mussels called Quaggas, swarming many marinas on Lake Michigan. Quaggas are hungrier and more aggressive than their cousin, the zebra mussel, which blanket beaches and clog up pipes all along the Great Lakes.
Marine Biologist Steve Pothoven says the mussel now dominates the water.
"We found the first Quagga mussel just north of here in 2000 to 2001," he said.
The microscopic shrimp population in Lake Huron has plunged 54 percent in the past five years, because an increased presence of Quaggas. Those tiny shrimp are what larger fish live on.
Pothoven says the mussel is native to The Black Sea and The Balkan Sea, and arrived in the Great Lakes by "hitch hiking" in the ballast tanks of large, ocean-going ships. Those tanks are filled with sea water to provide balance to the ship, and is purged out of the tank when the ship arrives in american waters.
And it's not just scientists who are worried. These tiny invaders are causing problems for everyone who lives and works on the Great Lakes.
Starved of shrimp, whitefish that once took a year-and-a-half to mature, now take five. As a result, fishermen across Lake Michigan are hanging up their nets.
Andy Buchsbaum, who works for the National Wildlife Federation, says the Federation is demanding strict federal regulations on big ships, to keep contaminated ballast out of U.S. waters.
"Unless we can stop them from coming in here, we're just going to be a jump-off point for invaders all over the country," said Buchsbaum. "This is like pollution that reproduces."
The industry says it's invested millions to develop technology that would suck the oxygen from ballast tanks, killing the stowaways.
John Jamian, the President of the Seaway Great Lakes Trade Association, says the industry has made great strides at protecting the Great Lakes, despite having few resources.
"I think the shipping industry has done a tremendous job, given the fact that they were not set up for this kind of business, in terms of solving these problems," he said.
Unfortunately, that won't do anything about the invasive species that are already in U.S. waters. Quaggas have now been spotted as far west as Lake Mead and the Colorado River.