Department of Fish and Game Takes Action to Prevent Possible Spread of Invasive Zebra Mussels
Responding to local concerns, agency authorizes municipalities to restrict use of public boat ramps on water bodies susceptible to infestation; temporary, emergency measures to remain in place no longer than 45 days
BOSTON - In the wake of last week's discovery of zebra mussels in Laurel Lake in Lee and Lenox - the first confirmed presence of the invasive species in Massachusetts - and in response to concerns from local officials in nearby communities, the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) today authorized municipalities to enforce limited restrictions on the use of boat ramps at other Berkshire County water bodies deemed at-risk to infestation by the highly destructive species.
The purpose of today's action by DFG's Office of Fishing and Boating Access (OFBA) is to reduce the risk that boats that have recently been on Laurel Lake will transport zebra mussels to other Berkshire County lakes, ponds and rivers. Coming on the heels of OFBA's emergency closure of the state boat ramp at Laurel Lake on July 8, it authorizes local boat ramp managers to bar the use of boat ramps at susceptible water bodies by vessels ramp managers determine have been on Laurel Lake within the last 30 days unless boats in question have undergone specific cleaning and disinfection. These measures include thoroughly draining, flushing, cleaning and drying the boat - including the engine, bilge, ballast water, recreational equipment and anything else that has come in contact with lake water; using a bleach solution and high pressure hot water; and allowing the boat to dry for at least one week in dry weather and up to 30 days in cool, wet weather.
Under Massachusetts regulations, both today's OFBA action and the July 8 Laurel Lake boat ramp closure cannot remain in effect longer than 45 days without public notice and opportunity for public comment.
The OFBA has authority to close state boat ramps, or authorize municipal officials to restrict access, for not more than 45 days if it finds that the immediate establishment of management measures is necessary for the public health, safety or general welfare. Zebra mussels, which significantly alter lake ecology and can harm native animals, humans, and boats, can be unknowingly transported from one lake to another by boaters.
In addition today's emergency action, DFG and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) announced that they will host a public meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, at Pittsfield City Hall to present information on the status of zebra mussel infestation at Laurel Lake and boat ramp issues, provide background on zebra mussels and DCR's ongoing public awareness program in western Massachusetts, and discuss future actions such as what citizens can do to prevent the species from spreading.
The Commonwealth is committed to maintaining public access to these bodies of water as required under existing law, and its long-term zebra mussel management plan is focused on containment through public education and enforcement of rigorous boat cleaning rules. But restricting boat access on a temporary basis provides additional safeguards while state invasive species experts determine the scope and severity of the zebra mussel infestation in Laurel Lake, the possible infestation of neighboring water bodies, the level of risk that exists regarding transport of the mussels by boats from one water body to another, and appropriate management measures going forward. Temporary boat access restrictions will reduce the chance of accidentally spreading the species while state officials make the boating public aware of preventive measures.
As part of this effort, the DCR, which confirmed the presence of zebra mussels in Laurel Lake last week, has provided guidance to officials of the Laurel Lake association, urging them to contact lakefront property owners and request that they not remove their boats from the lake. The association was also asked to distribute zebra mussel educational materials and post additional signs alerting boaters and others that Laurel Lake contains zebra mussels. Volunteer boat ramp monitors trained by area lake associations in cooperation with the DCR will help to enforce the boat ramp restrictions, along with DCR ramp monitors trained by agency biologists. The DCR plans to hire two additional ramp monitors within the next two weeks to assist with this effort.
In addition, to determine the extent of the infestation, DCR will conduct surveys of Laurel Lake and downstream areas next week. Surrounding lakes in Berkshire County are being surveyed by DCR-trained volunteers and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. The DCR's survey will target lakes with calcium concentrations and other water quality characteristics necessary to support breeding populations of zebra mussels. In addition, the OFBA's authorization for municipalities to restrict use of other Berkshire County boat ramps is limited to water bodies determined by DCR to have the water chemistry necessary to support zebra mussel colonies.
Ramps could have limited restrictions under this emergency measure include:
- Laurel Lake Lee
- Goose Pond Tyringham
- Shaw Pond Otis
- Big Pond Otis
- Lake Buel Monterey
- Thousand Acre Pond New Marlborough
- Windsor Pond Windsor
- Stockbridge Bowl Stockbridge
- Richmond Pond Richmond
- Onota Lake Pittsfield
- Pontoosuc Lake Pittsfield
A freshwater bivalve mollusk that looks like a small clam with a yellowish or brownish shell shaped like the letter "D," zebra mussels have been found in numerous lakes, ponds and rivers in the United States, including the entire Great Lakes region and Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. Nationally, taxpayers spend billions of dollars a year to control zebra mussel infestations, which, once established, are usually impossible to eradicate. Considered among the country's most significant invasive species, the mussels out-compete juvenile fish for food and cling by the thousands to virtually everything in a water body - including docks, boats, other aquatic organisms, and various water intake pipes and instruments. Microscopic juvenile zebra mussels can get into boat cooling systems and other water intakes and grow, completely clogging these systems. Found in numbers as high as 750,000 individuals per square meter, their razor-sharp shells wash up on shore, creating a safety hazard for beachgoers.
In 2005, DCR developed a Rapid Response Plan for The Zebra Mussel, which focused on public education, and preventing and/or slowing the spread of the mussels from one body of water to another. The plan directs the state to take steps to minimize the transport of the mussels when infestation is extensive. Steps may include "screening of outlets, curtaining of interbasin channels and preventing human use of the body of water."
DCR's Lakes and Ponds Program conducts ongoing zebra mussel education, outreach and monitoring, and has trained volunteers to collect samples to monitor the species. It was a DCR-trained volunteer who first detected zebra mussels in Laurel Lake. The DCR program includes informative boat ramp signage and an educational brochure on zebra mussels.
DCR and DFG recommend that boaters who have boated in an infested lake thoroughly drain, flush, clean and dry their boat and all recreational equipment before launching it in any other lake. This includes the boat engine, bilge, ballast water, or anything else that has come into contact with the water. Boaters should use a bleach solution along with high-pressure hot water, and dry the boat for at least one week in dry weather and up to 30 days in cool, wet environments.