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Why you should be vigilant of Zebra Mussels

GRAYSON COUNTY - Zebra mussels were first found in the United States in the mid 1980s. It was only three years ago that scientists discovered the invasive species had spread to Lake Texoma, which sits on the Red River between Oklahoma and Texas.

According to their website, Lake Texoma attracts approximately six million visitors a year.  It includes two wildlife refuges, two state parks, 12 marinas, 26 resorts, and hundreds of campgrounds.

“What makes them [zebra mussels] so detrimental and harmful to aquatic resources, as well as to economies and anything that utilizes those lakes, is that they have a very high reproductive rate. They’re very prolific,” says Brian VanZee, inland fisheries regional director with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

He adds these mussels have a strong ability to attach themselves to any hard surface found within the water, such as boats, pipes and docks. They can also filter out a lot of the zooplankton and phytoplankton, which are a major part of Texoma’s aquatic food chain.

Before their discovery in Texas in 2009, the threat of zebra mussels in state lakes was low because of warm water temperatures. But researchers think the mussels may be adapting.

As a result, new regulations have been designed to prevent the spread of the invasive species, which became effective May 17.

“The concern was that boaters would be coming from Lake Texoma and if they did not adequately drain all of the water out of their boat, or the live wells or the bait buckets; that type of thing, then there would still be zebra mussel larvae in that water and that could then cause an introduction into some of our other lakes,” VanZee explained.

Lake Texoma, located in North Texas, is less than 100 miles from various local attractions like Jim Chapman Lake (Cooper Lake), Lake Tawakoni and Lake Ray Hubbard.

The campaign to inform boaters to clean, drain and dry their boats is using billboards, banners, signage at area businesses and buoys at boat ramps to get the message out.

VanZee adds, “It’s a real quick procedure. It’s fairly simple. And it’s something, honestly, that all boaters should be doing anytime they leave any lake in the state. That simple process not only helps stop the spread of zebra mussels but it can help stop the spread of invasive aquatic vegetation or any other invasive species we know that are popping up across the country.”

Violators of the new rules could face misdemeanor charges.

Above, hear the full interview with Brian VanZee, a guest on The Lead for Friday, June 1.