Mussel would be bad news for Clear Lake
By Terry Knight -- Record-Bee outdoors columnist
Article Last Updated: 11/13/2007 10:50:00 PM PST

A creature that's as small as your fingernail could spell doom for Clear Lake. It's the quagga mussel and if it gets into the lake it could be an ecological disaster.

The danger of this invasive species was brought home last week during a workshop sponsored by the Lake County Fish and Wildlife Advisory Committee and the county's Department of Water Resources.

Dr. Ted Grosoltz, a biologist at the University of California in Davis, is an expert on mussels and was the keynote speaker during the workshop. Grosoltz said that if the quagga mussel ever gains a foothold here the bass, crappie and catfish fisheries as we now know them would virtually disappear. Grosoltz also said the cost for local governments to clean out the water intakes would run into the millions.

Quagga mussels feed on phytoplankton, which is the primary food for the young bass and other game fish in Clear Lake. They are filter feeders and feed by pumping water through their digestive system. A tiny quagga mussel is capable of pumping more than a quart of water through its system in one day. When you multiply that by the millions of mussels you can see they will quickly use up all the plankton in the lake. What makes Clear Lake so attractive to the mussels

is its rich supply of plankton and the calcium in the water, both of which supply the mussel with required nutrients.
According to Grosoltz, if the mussels become established in Clear Lake the water would become extremely clear, which in turn would cause massive weed growth. Grosoltz also said that once the mussels get into the lake it is nearly impossible to get rid of them.

"There has never been a lake that has been infested with quagga mussels successfully treated to get rid of them," Grosoltz said.

Pamela Francis, Deputy Director of Lake County Water Resources Division, said the county will focus on keeping out the mussel and that means inspecting all watercraft entering the county. To accomplish this, the county would have to purchase and man inspection and decontamination stations 24 hours a day. The problem is obtaining funding for such a task.

Francis said it would cost $1,000,000 per station per year, and at least three would be required to cover the county. Funding for the stations would have to be obtained from either the state or federal governments. There also have been suggestions that a launch fee or an annual fee be imposed on boaters to pay for the decontamination stations.

The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is tasked with the responsibility of monitoring the mussel problem. According to DFG game warden Lynette Shimek, the DFG is presently training dogs to detect the presence of mussels or their larva (called veligers) on boats. She already has one dog trained and others are undergoing training. Under recently passed legislation (AB1683), the DFG also has the authority to stop any vessels entering the county and inspect them. The DFG also has the authority to close waters and control access to waters that may contain the mussels.

The state also has inspection stations set up on the borders. Last year approximately 80,000 watercraft were inspected and 84 were found with mussels attached. While that may seem like a small number, consider that if just one of the those boats had been launched at Clear Lake it could very likely contaminate the entire lake.

Bass boats that come from Southern California, Arizona and Nevada to compete in tournaments at Clear Lake are the biggest concern. A good example was during a recent major tournament held on the lake. I spoke with four individuals who had just come from Las Vegas, and two said they had fished in Lake Mead just two days before coming to Clear Lake. Lake Mead is one of the lakes infested with the quagga mussel.

Presently quagga mussels are in Lake Mead, Lake Havasu and five smaller lakes in San Diego County. The theory is that they got into those lakes from boats.

Several audience members at the workshop expressed the opinion that all boats owned by people from out of the area should be banned from the lake and all future bass tournaments canceled. Actually, Lake County does have the authority to do just that. As it now stands the county requires all organized water activities such as boat races and wakeboard events to first obtain a permit from the county. Bass tournaments aren't yet required to have a county permit, only a state permit, but that could change in the future if the county doesn't get a handle on the mussel problem.

The bottom line is that everyone has to cooperate to keep the mussels out of the lake and that includes bass fishermen and pleasure boaters.