Invasive Species Discovered in Michigan Trout Fishing Streams

November 29, 2016

Mudsnail2When people think of common pests, they usually think of the ones in their homes. Many worry about mice or other rodents, while 20% of homeowners are most concerned about termites. But not all pests are of the household variety. Some of the worst ones may be discovered outdoors.

For Michigan residents, there’s a new invader to worry about. The mud snail, an invasive species native to New Zealand, was recently discovered in some of Michigan’s most popular trout fishing streams.

The mollusk made its first appearance in the Pere Marquette River in August 2015. Experts said that the species must have arrived that year. But after two undergrads at Au Sable Institute for Environmental Studies re-examined archived water samples from Boardman River, experts now believe that the mud snail has been in Michigan since at least 2013.

“They are so small, they’re easy to miss unless you’re looking for them,” said Dave Mahan, the former director of the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies.

Since the mud snails were discovered last summer, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality has been on the search for them in other parts of the state.

The state of Michigan is no stranger to the effects of invasive aquatic species. Zebra mussels, which were discovered in 1988 in Lake St. Clair, have severely disrupted the ecosystem of all of the Great Lakes. Power plants, water supply systems, and marinas have all been affected by these mollusks. They are now impossible to get rid of and cost these industries over $500 million every year.

“We don’t want New Zealand mud snails to become the zebra mussels of our rivers,” said Mahan. “I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but unfortunately, the potential is there.”

Mud snails were introduced to the U.S. about 30 years ago in Idaho and are present in Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario. The tiny snails, which can easily be mistaken as a speck of mud on a boat, or for an unassuming native snail type, produce asexually from a single female and offer no nutritional value to fish. They have formed large clusters in 10 of the western states, five of the Great Lakes states, as well as British Columbia and Ontario.

No one knows exactly how they made it to Michigan, let alone to the tributaries of fishing rivers. There’s one thing that researchers know for certain: there is no way to get rid of them.

In their native New Zealand, the snails are found in all types of aquatic habitats, from rivers to hot springs, ponds,and glacial lakes.

“One of the things I will frequently ask during my presentations is how many people in the audience have fished out west,” said Seth Herbst, an aquatic invasive species coordinator with the Department of Natural Resources. Usually, he says, a number of hands will go up. One of the suspected ways that the mud snails have migrated eastward is by hitching rides on fishing boats, nets, wading gear and other equipment.

“It’s a priority issue,” said Herbst, “but right now we don’t have a lot of manpower.”

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