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Will sunfish eat zebra mussels? Alexandria lakes look to solutions

Pumpkinseed sunfish

Could there be a possible solution for the pesky zebra mussel infestation?

A study of the aquatic invasive species in Lake Champlain in the state of Vermont points to the possibility.

The study, titled, "Will fish become significant predators of zebra mussels in Lake Champlain?" examines the use of predatory fish, such as sheepshead, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch and rock bass, to decrease the number of zebra mussels in a lake.

Reportedly, these types of fish have learned to recognize zebra mussels as food.

As part of the two-year study, which was conducted by students at the School of Natural Resources at the University of Vermont, it was discovered that 50 percent of the pumpkinseeds and about 40 percent of the sheepshead collected had zebra mussels in their guts, which suggested that these fish commonly consume zebra mussels as prey.

However, one factor determined during the study is that because the concentration of calcium in the water of Lake Champlain is very low, the zebra mussels have very thin shells. The thin shells make the zebra mussels more vulnerable to predation.

According to Dean Beck, supervisor of the DNR's Glenwood Area Fisheries, there are no current studies documenting mussel predation locally.

Although Beck said he has hopes for the pumpkinseed sunfish, he believes there aren't enough drum - bottom dwelling fish - in the Alexandria chain of lakes to make a dent in the zebra mussel population.

In contrast to lakes in the northeast, like Lake Champlain, lakes around here are classified as hardwater lakes due to relatively elevated concentrations of calcium carbonate dissolved in the water.

That is why most residents have softeners to reduce that hardness, noted Beck.


Zebra mussels were recently found in Gull Lake, one of Brainerd's more popular lakes.

A representative from the DNR received a phone call from a company that found zebra mussels on docks and boat lifts it was removing from the west side of Gull Lake. More mussels were also found on the east side of the lake.

The DNR will now designate Gull Lake as infested waters, which prohibits the transporting of water and requires draining of all water, including bait containers. It also prohibits the harvesting of bait.