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Zebra mussels found on boat bound for Fish Hook

Charlie Kellner shows one of the zebra mussels his boat service technician recently found during the winterizing process. The boat had come from Lake Minnetonka, which is known to have zebra mussels, and was eventually headed to Fish Hook Lake come spring. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Numerous nooks and crannies can conceal zebra mussels on a motor. Charlie Kellner points to an especially vulnerable area, where young mollusks can hide. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

The calcified zebra mussel Charlie Kellner keeps at his boat business in Park Rapids is more evidence that the invasive species war is at the doorstep and the north woods may be powerless to stall its onslaught.

Service technician John Walen recently worked on a boat that came out of Lake Minnetonka for winter storage, slated for a spring launch on Fish Hook Lake.

This particular boat was carrying unwelcome hitchhikers, concealed underneath a plate holding the lower shaft of the motor together.

"It never hit the lake," Kellner said. "Mechanics during the winterizing process found eight of the little devils in behind one of the covers on the lower (motor) unit and there's no way they could get out of there so they must have gotten in there during the hatching stage."

That larval stage is referred to as veligers. Veligers can float freely for weeks before settling into underwater objects where they reproduce like wildfire, indicated a recent presentation by COLA representative Ken Grob, An adult female zebra mussel releases up to 1 million eggs a year and has a life span of 4-5 years, Grob's presentation indicated.

Banding together

The Coalition of Lake Associations is seeking partners in the war against aquatic invasive species. News of zebra mussels found in Park Rapids, albeit dead ones, was like a lightning bolt at Wednesday's county board meeting.

Grob and Hubbard County COLA president Dan Kittilson asked the board to adopt an anti-AIS resolution and appoint a board member to a newly formed task force. Commissioner Kathy Grell was tapped. Her District 1 area contains the majority of the county's lakes.

"It's certainly not something COLA can do alone, it's not something the DNR can do alone and it's not something the county can do alone," commissioner Lyle Robinson said.

The cost, the strategy

Grob said short of taking Draconian measures, the spread of invasives like zebra mussels is all but inevitable, a word he apologized for using.

"Boat washes aren't the solution," Robinson said. "Come opening day there are trucks lined up on 371 (launching boats at the Leech Lake access) and we're gonna wash 'em all? They'll go somewhere else."

Forming a task force is a great idea, commissioner Dick Devine said, "but a lot of prevention is money driven."

Grob pointed out the DNR has doubled its budget to fight AIS, from $4 million to $8 million.

Commissioners questioned why Legacy Amendment funds, which accrue at a rate of around $80 million a year, shouldn't be used in the war.

"The liability is astronomical if it gets into those lakes," Devine said of the region.

"Prevention's a wonderful thing," Robinson reiterated, adding, "We need to have a plan to purify the lake" if the inevitable outbreak occurs.

DNR invasive species experts are trying topical applications of chemicals to treat recent infestations in Douglas County lakes, but it is too premature to guess the success of the treatments, they say.

Research into containing the spread of the mollusks is in the fledgling stages, Grob admitted.

"Even if you check everybody's boat, motor and anchor" the veligers can be spread by other sources, Robinson suggested.

"Have you ever seen pelican discharge? There's small cars in there and they go from lake to lake to lake," he said.

When asked if boats should be pressure washed at high temperatures to rid them of the sticky mussels, Kellner wasn't so sure.

"They're concealed and that's what the problem is," he said. "It's a scary thought. The biggest thing is that if the boat would have came up during prime time from Minnetonka and the guy would have put it right into the lake, the only good things about this particular case was that they couldn't get out where they were at.

"They evidently got in when they were microscopic size, is evidently how they hatched in there. But it was in a covered area that was fairly tight," Kellner said.

"To pull it off the access and hosing it off ain't gonna cut the mustard," he said of boat washes.

The find at Charlie's

Charlie's Boats & Marine services and stores dozens of boats each spring and summer.

"It's just one of those unfortunate things that we're going to find more of it but you wonder how many boats are coming up from those areas and we're not necessarily saying Minnetonka," Kellner pointed out. "They're (zebra mussels) as close as Brainerd and Alexandria. And they're big time down there and it's a disaster.

"We look for them," Kellner said when servicing boats. "This is an obvious thing and it's part of the program. It's the first time we've seen them."

Kellner said everyone from boat owners to service businesses have a responsibility to keep the spread contained.

"Everybody just tries to do their part and try to put it in check and go from there," he said. "It's too bad but it's just a matter of time."

The mussels at Charlie's, though dead, were still sharp to the touch.

It could ruin a lake or beach just trying to walk on them, he noted.

The Draconian measures

"I read somewhere they wanted to hold a boat for seven days and the guy was literally upset with that," Kellner said. "And I wonder how much of that will be going on."

But realistically, should boats that have been in contaminated waters be quarantined?

That's the new law and it isn't sitting well with boat owners

""People will get gun shy and not bring it anywhere knowing that," Kellner said. "The only way you could keep them coming out of the contaminated lakes is if that boat came out of a contaminated lake it's supposed to be quarantined for seven days if I understand it correctly" the new legislation.

"If we pull a boatlift or a motor or something that comes out of the water, of a marked lake, or a tagged or condemned lake, it is supposed to be quarantined for seven days."

Kellner's employees attend the regular DNR seminars put on to keep businesses abreast of the changing landscape.

But Kellner said quarantining boats often goes counter to the owner's wishes.

"We as a business would do that but whether the boat owner would let us quarantine their boat for seven days is another thing," he said. "But you have to take the next step."

Commissioners and Kellner say education is the key to stop the spread. And while Hubbard County pledged its support, that support didn't come with dollars.

"You wonder how many people pull it from a lake, come from Alexandria, whatever, just put it in even they know that lake's contaminated," Kellner said of the obstacles faced educating the public. "They're not gonna listen."

Zebra mussels can hide in so many nooks and crannies, they can be impossible to find, both Kellner and Walen agreed.

"Somebody can't stand at an access and take your boat apart," to find them, Kellner said.

"Rinsing them down and whatever, I find it very impossible" to curb the spread, he said.

A quarantine is the only way to kill the mussels, which are reported to be able to live up to five days out of water.

"But to sit and rinse them off with hot water and stuff, well, hell," he said. "I don't know if that's necessarily going to cure the problem."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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