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Karie Decker, invasive species project coordinator for Nebraska, holds a shoe encrusted with quagga mussels from Lake Mead in Nevada. The state recently adopted an Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan, which will step up efforts to keep quaggas and other invasive species out of Nebraska. (Eric Gregory)

The shell-encrusted shoe looks like somebody went wild with a glue gun to create a conversation piece.

Except, in this case, the  crafter simply tossed the shoe in Nevada’s Lake Mead. A few months later, he pulled it out and it was layered in quagga mussels.



No, not cool.

Not at all cool.

The way quaggas colonize on a shoe may be a natural novelty, but it should send shudders down the spines of Nebraska anglers.

Quagga mussels and their cousins, zebra mussels, are invasive species that seriously threaten Nebraska lakes, reservoirs and streams.

Except for some zebras present in the Missouri River, Nebraska is free of the bad bivalves. But they’re on our southern and western borders — Colorado has quaggas, while zebra mussels have spread across Kansas like a head cold.

Except it’s a cold you never get over. Think ax in the head.

“It really is at the doorstep,” said Karie Decker, invasive species project coordinator for Nebraska.

It’s hard to believe something as small as a fish scale can lay waste to a massive reservoir, but make no doubt about it.

These invasive mussels feed on the same plankton and invertebrates fish fry need to survive. Except they reproduce much faster than fish and soon they make it virtually impossible for sport fish to recruit new year classes.

They need hard surfaces to attach themselves, so they quickly cover rocks and plug water pipes. The sharp edges on their shells can ruin swimming areas and beaches. While they can help clarify lake water, doing so often leads to an explosion in aquatic vegetation, which can make large areas unfishable.

Need more convincing that we don’t need invasive mussels in Nebraska?

Research has shown the mollusks produce highly toxic waste, because it is a concentration of the bad chemicals they filter out of the water. This is a serious concern in reservoirs such as Lake Mead, because people drink the water there.

What’s more, because invasive mussels feed on algae, they can make a lake more hospitable to  cynobacteria, the toxin in toxic blue-green algae. We already know how nasty that stuff can be.

Nebraska recently took another important step in the effort to keep quaggas, zebras and other exotic invasive plants, fishes and diseases out of our waters.

On Aug. 31, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission approved the Nebraska Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan. More recently, Gov. Dave Heineman signed the plan, which will allow the state to seek federal grants to boost prevention efforts, Decker said.

The invasive species project also submitted a grant to the Nebraska Environmental Trust to help fund additional prevention strategies.

For example, the project  would like to use the money to fund boat ramp inspections and portable decontamination units at Harlan County Reservoir and Lake McConaughy, two of the state’s most popular and most vulnerable lakes.

The inspections mostly involve asking boaters if they’ve recently been in states with infected waters. If they identify a problem boat, they use a power washer that heats water to 140 degrees to decontaminate it.

The inspections take less than five minutes, while a decontamination session would take about 15.

Boaters need to cooperate because they could easily transport any of the invaders without knowing it. For example, mussel larvae and common fish pathogens are impossible to see with the naked eye, but can survive in a wet livewell or bilge (or even a damp pair of waders).

Decker argues there is a real need for these inspections. She pointed to a survey this summer that found boaters from 22 different states at McConaughy. Boats that had been in Colorado, Kansas and other infected states were in the mix.

With state agency budgets shrinking, the question of cost inevitably arises. Decker and Dave Tunink, assistant fisheries administrator with Game and Parks, said the prevention efforts will require no state funding other than the possible environmental trust grant.

But what would it cost if we fail to keep out zebra and quagga mussels? Consider Offutt Lake on Offutt Air Force Base, which had a zebra mussel infestation.  It cost about $200,000 to chemically eradicate the mussels.

Conducting a similar eradication effort on a water body as large as McConaughy would cost an estimated $8 million, Decker said.

Here’s another big number: $20 billion. That’s the amount spent annually dealing with aquatic invaders in the United States.

We could spend all $20 billion in Nebraska alone and still lose the fight. It  takes just one infected boat to slip past the defenses.

So we all have to understand and use prevention strategies. Boaters and anglers have to be aware, err on the side of caution and do the right thing if our fishing resources are to remain healthy and functional.

What would you rather hold in front of the camera — a trophy walleye or a shell-encrusted Converse?

Reach Joe Duggan at 402-473-7239 or



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