The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced that invasive zebra mussels were discovered in late January 2020 in Delta Lake, which supplies water to DEC’s Rome Fish Hatchery. Subsequent water testing at the hatchery confirmed the presence of zebra mussel veligers (larvae) in an outdoor raceway.
The Rome Hatchery is one of DEC’s largest hatcheries with annual production totaling nearly 160,000 pounds of brook, rainbow, and brown trout.
DEC is currently developing short- and long-term strategies to limit the spread of this invasive species so that the hatchery can return to normal production.
“DEC’s Rome Fish Hatchery plays a vital role in the management New York State’s fisheries and we are taking this aquatic invasive discovery very seriously,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos in an announcement sent to the press. “DEC will provide all the necessary resources to address this problem and employ solutions to ensure the hatchery will operate free of zebra mussels in the future.”
Saying it is out of an abundance of caution, DEC is adjusting its stocking regimen for 2020. Fish from the Rome hatchery will only be stocked in waters currently inhabited by zebra mussels. DEC fisheries managers are currently determining the type and number of fish stocked into individual waterbodies this year; some waters may receive a reduction or increase in stocking, while other waters will not be stocked.
Alterations in stocking are also envisioned for 2021. DEC is investigating alternative options to maximize hatchery production so as many waters as possible can be stocked.
Zebra mussels are an invasive, fingernail-sized mollusk native to fresh waters in Eurasia. Their name comes from the dark, zig-zagged stripes on each shell. It is estimated that zebra mussels arrived in the Great Lakes in the 1980s via ballast water discharged by large ships from Europe. Zebra mussels negatively impact ecosystems in many ways, including filtering out algae that native species need for food and attaching to-and incapacitating-native mussels.
New York has more than 7,000 lakes, ponds, and rivers that could potentially be exposed to dozens of harmful aquatic invasive species (AIS). One of the main pathways for transfer of AIS between waterbodies is boats and other recreational water vehicles. Aquatic invasive plants and animals such as hydrilla, water chestnut, Eurasian watermilfoil, zebra mussels, and Asian clams are easily transported on boats, boat trailers, and recreational gear.
State regulation requires water recreationists to take reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of AIS and New York is expanding boat steward programs across the state, particularly in popular, high-use areas. In-person interactions with boaters, anglers, and other recreational water users raise awareness about aquatic invasive species and practices (cleaning, draining, and treating) that reduce the chance of spreading aquatic invaders.
DEC advises boaters and anglers to check boats, trailers, and other fishing and boating equipment for any plants or animals that may be clinging to it. Be sure to check bunks, rollers, trim tabs and other likely attachment points on boats and trailers. Following a thorough inspection, DEC encourages boaters to follow the CLEAN, DRAIN, and DRY standard. For more information, visit DEC’s website.
Photo of Zebra Mussel courtesy USGS Archive, Bugwood.org.