By SIERRA RESOVSKY
Capital News Service
LANSING – New Zealand mud snails were found in the Pere Marquette River and are invading the Great Lakes region, according to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Now outdoor groups are taking steps to prevent their spread to other bodies of water across the state.
The agencies announced in September that the invasive New Zealand mud snails
had been found near Baldwin in Lake County.
Measuring only 1/8 of an inch long, it’s easier for them than for larger native snails to “hitchhike” on waders and fishing gear, the departments said. And although they live in streams primarily in the western United States, they’re now on the move.
“We believe these snails have been introduced into the Pere Marquette River by recreational fisherman,” said Seth Herbst, an aquatic invasive species coordinator for the DNR’s Fisheries Division. “Being so small, they can latch onto boots, waders and fishing equipment that wasn’t washed properly, or even washed at all.”
Once the snails were found, state experts took samples from 12 miles of the Pere Marquette River to get a better idea of their distribution.
Sarah LeSage, an aquatic invasive species coordinator for the DEQ, said, “Looking at the reach from Baldwin to downstream, we found the snails were more widely distributed than we thought, especially in connecting tributaries. Some areas were more abundant and other area sightings were more rare, but overall they’re more widespread than we predicted.”
According to LeSage, mud snails reproduce quicker, giving them a greater potential to densely carpet the bottom of a river, displacing native snails that are ecologically important.
“Their ability to survive out of water for up to a month and rapid reproduction time can cause harm to our native species – it can only take one New Zealand snail to start an entire population,” LeSage said.
“The snails go undigested, making them non-nutritional for fish, compared to local insects that are already found in our rivers and streams,” she added.
The Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) expressed concern about the transfer of mud snails via ballast water as well. Mud snails can enter new waters by attaching to boats and anglers.
“In general, anglers, waders and boaters can avoid transfer in different bodies of water by washing equipment down thoroughly to help the spread of aquatic invasive species,” Drew Youngedyke, the field and public relations manager at MUCC, said.
Youngedyke also suggested boaters and other outdoor recreationalists download a free app called Midwest Invasive Species Information Network, otherwise known as MISIN, to their smartphone.
“MISIN allows folks, if they think they see an invasive species, to pull it up on the app and report it to the mapped database that then sends the information to local non-profit and advocacy groups and state departments,” Youngedyke said. “Once the information has been reported, a specific location can be looked at to schedule follow-up and remove it if the invasive species is found.”
Warning signs are posted in nearby areas to remind the public to keep an eye out and to avoid contact and transfer of the organisms.
DNR’s Herbst said his department is working with local stakeholder groups to create awareness and prevent the mud snails’ spread to new bodies of water.
“We have groups maintaining wader washing stations to decontaminate gear to prevent the transfer and increase awareness, specifically at Baldwin Bait and Tackle and the Pere Marquette River Lodge,” Herbst said. “During high traffic times, it’s a great opportunity to work with local groups and their clients to encourage cleaning their gear before and after entering the river to make sure invasives aren’t being accidentally introduced into other rivers,” he said.
So far, the Pere Marquette is the only Michigan river with reported sightings, but LeSage and other experts at the DEQ want to continue outreach activities.
Plans are being made this winter to learn more about the distribution patterns of the mud snails by checking nearby rivers for infestations, she said.