Invasive mussels species enters Montana, puts Pacific Northwest salmon fisheries on edge

Published on
December 22, 2016

An invasive species of mussels* known for multiplying rapidly and disrupting most ecosystems and fisheries in its path, has now been detected in Montana after already infesting a number of other U.S. states including Nevada, Utah, California, Colorado and Arizona.

The troubling quagga and zebra mussels first began appearing from the Black Sea in the 1980s, and soon spread to the Great Lakes, then Nevada’s Lake Mead in 2007, according to the High Country News. With few predators to speak of and a penchant for increasing in volume at record rates, zebra and quagga mussels can be extremely difficult to vanquish and tend to travel to new habitats on waders and boat bottoms, noted the newspaper.

On 8 November, 2016, a laboratory analysis of Montana’s Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs detected the larvae of the invasive mussels, prompting Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Nation to ban any boating activity for the time being. While Montana’s impending winter may work to slow down the infestation of the invasive mussels, many scientists, politicians and fisheries affiliates remain concerned. If the mussels spread, they could cost the state of Montana millions and risk the closure of many waterways.

“This is going to be absolutely catastrophic to the economy and the environment,” said state Rep. Jim Keane, D-Butte, in the Flathead Beacon.

"Like cancer, if it's just one little spot in your body you can get it out, but if it spreads, the waterway is lost forever," said Gordon Luikart, a scientist and professor of conservation ecology and genetics with the Flathead Lake Biological Station, to the Missoula Independent. Luikart and many scientists and researchers, including those from the University of Montana, have been sampling in subzero waters.

It’s not just the tourism business that stands to take a hit if zebra mussels continue to spread – if they make it over the Continental Divide, a number of other regions critical to the Pacific Northwest salmon sector could be in trouble, said Matt Morrison, chief executive officer of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, to the Missoulian.

“If they get over the Continental Divide, then British Columbia, Idaho, Washington and Oregon are all vulnerable,” Morrison explained. “No matter how many inspection stations we have, they’ll just float downriver. And it’s not just a tourism matter. We estimate it will cost the region a half-billion dollars a year for the rest of our lives just to manage impact on hydro, irrigation and fisheries, especially our salmon habitat.”

On 30 November, Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a statewide natural resource emergency, the Missoula Independent reported. On 21 December, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials reported on further mussel larva detection, from samples taken in the fall in the Missouri River south of Townsend, near the York’s Island Fishing Access Site.

President Barack Obama signed a law on 18 December aimed at preventing the spread of invasive mussels into the Columbia River ecosystem. The bill is backed by U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, and is aimed at ensuring that watercraft inspection stations are sufficiently funded so that they can efficiently inspect and decontaminate boats that might be transporting the invasive species, reported The Columbian.

“Prevention is the first line of defense, and I’ve secured the resources to strengthen invasive species prevention because it’s the cheapest and most effective tool to use against invasive species. It is also key to maintain our reliable, renewable and affordable hydro energy,” Herrera Beutler said in a prepared statement.

According to the Associated Press, a preliminary report suggests that invasive mussels have not moved into Montana water bodies beyond the Missouri River Basin.

*Mussels (not so much the invasive kind detailed above) is the species being highlighted during Day 11 of SeafoodSource’s “12 Days of Seafood” campaign. Find below more relevant news and resources regarding mussels: 

Mussels to play key part in Scotland’s aqua sector growth

Shellfish harvesting ban lifted in Maine following domoic acid contamination

New report: Aquaculture in Maine can grow with focus on scallops, mussels

New frozen seafood line appeals to millennials

New app reveals New Zealand’s best and worst seafood choices

Pricing: Harvests, values fall for Scottish mussels and oysters



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