A commercial fisherman who has been fishing on Lake Manitoba for decades says he and other local fishers are now on edge and wondering how the lake and their livelihoods will be affected, after invasive zebra mussels were discovered in Lake Manitoba earlier this week.
“All of the fishers I have spoken to who fish on this lake are very concerned about what impact this is going to have on the lake and on the fishery,” Lake Manitoba Commercial Fishermen Association president Allan Gaudry said.
In a Tuesday press release, the province confirmed that juvenile zebra mussel, which are an aquatic invasive species in Manitoba, were detected in nine water samples collected from Lake Manitoba Narrows, through monitoring conducted by the province in July.
“This indicates there could be a reproducing population of zebra mussels in Lake Manitoba,” the province said on Tuesday.
Zebra Mussels were first discovered in Manitoba when they were found in Lake Winnipeg back in the fall of 2013.
Gaudry has been fishing on Lake Manitoba for more than 30 years, and in his role as association president he said he represents more than 450 commercial fishermen.
He said he now believes since that discovery in Lake Winnipeg that both the province and Manitoba boaters could have been doing more to prevent the spread of zebra mussels into other lakes.
“You really needed the province to do more monitoring and cleaning around boat launches, and boaters really need to be responsible for cleaning and draining their boats when they leave a body of water,” Gaudry said.
“And obviously we haven’t done enough of that, because now they have come to Lake Manitoba.”
And with juvenile zebra mussels now in Lake Manitoba, Gaudry said it is probably only a matter of time until they further reproduce and continue to spread in the lake.
Adult female zebra mussels are known to reproduce at a rapid rate, as they can typically produce 30,000 to 40,000 eggs in each reproductive cycle, and over 1 million eggs in a single year.
And although stopping the zebra mussels may be impossible, Gaudry said he wants to see a lot of monitoring from both the province and from local lake users to see how fast the mussels may be spreading, and what sections of the lake they are spreading to.
“We can’t just say ‘well it’s here now, so that’s that.’ I think whatever you can do to monitor and contain it is what you have to do.”
The province said any boats or watercraft that have been in Lake Manitoba must now be decontaminated before being put in any other body of water.
Gaudry said fishers worry that the mussels could cause a number of issues for Lake Manitoba fishers, including depleted fish population, as well as damage to watercraft and equipment.
“We have had a healthy lake and fishery for many years, but I think this is really going to change the dynamic of the lake and of the fishery, and that is very concerning,” Gaudry said.
Lake Winnipeg commercial fishermen Chris Kristjanson, whose Gimli-based family has fished on Lake Winnipeg for decades, said he and others were not surprised when zebra mussels were discovered in Lake Winnipeg in 2013 and he is not surprised they have now spread further west.
“Unless you’re living under a rock, I don’t understand why anyone would be surprised that they’re slowly moving west,” Kristjanson said. “As a commercial fisherman I spent a lot of time on the road coming from or going to the lake, and on any given weekend I can count 35 to 50 trucks and boat trailers heading towards the lake.
“Zebra mussels have not grown wheels and rolled themselves from lake to lake, obviously they were transported, and I believe this will not end until every little mussel has gone coast to coast.”
Kristjanson said he and others who fish on Lake Winnipeg have already seen the effects of the mussels first hand, but he worries the effects could be worse in Lake Manitoba because it is smaller than Lake Winnipeg.
“You can stand in the water up to your waist and see your toes, so there is no doubt these little guys have filtered through, and they’ve created tremendous underwater vegetation,” he said.
“One of Lake Winnipeg’s greatest assets is its size comparable with the size of other lakes, and I fear what might happen to some of the smaller lakes.”
He said that increased vegetation is consistently causing damage to boats and boat motors in Lake Winnipeg, and he worries there could be more and more of that vegetation sprouting up every year.
“Vegetation is choking off the outboards and making it impossible to have safe harbours. That’s what’s happening on Lake Winnipeg, and that’s what these other smaller lakes have to look forward to.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun