Steelhead season is in full swing in Michigan and other states now, but in about a month, thousands of trout anglers will be heading to other streams for the general trout opener. But before you step into any stream, make sure you’re not carrying hitchhikers on your equipment.
In 2015 the Michigan departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources confirmed the presence of the invasive New Zealand mudsnail in the Pere Marquette River near Baldwin, which is a popular destination for trout and salmon anglers.
New Zealand mudsnails are each only about 1/8 inch long and can be difficult to see. However, these snails can significantly change the aquatic habitats they live in by reaching extremely high densities. When that happens, they can out-compete native species that are important food sources for trout. They also have no nutritional value for trout species that may feed upon them, which can negatively affect the overall condition of the trout.
The threat of New Zealand mudsnail spreading to new waters is high because they are easily transported via recreational users, such as anglers, due to their ability to attach to fishing equipment, wading gear and other hard surfaces. Once attached, they can hitch a ride to a new river or lake and begin the invasive process again. Additionally, a single snail can reproduce once transported.
New Zealand mudsnails are very resilient and have been known to survive in damp environments for up to 26 days.
As the spring fishing season gears up, anglers are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to target steelhead on the Pere Marquette and other popular Michigan rivers. It is important for anglers to clean, drain and dry their equipment to help prevent the spread of these invasive snails, as well as all types of aquatic invasive species.
Anglers are encouraged to clean boats and equipment (including waders) with hot water or a diluted bleach solution, and, when possible, allow the equipment to dry for at least five days before reusing. Another way to avoid spreading invasive: buy non-felt-sole wading boots. While felt soles provide great grip on rocks, they have the high potential to harbor invasive in their fibers, which if not disinfected properly, could mean ruination for your favorite river. Instead of felt soles, purchase a set of ice fishing grippers, and slip them over boots for secure footing.
Additional information about the New Zealand mudsnail and other aquatic invasive species can be found at michigan.gov/invasives. For decades, Michigan and other Great Lakes states have battled invasive, most of which have been brought in to the water via foreign ships using the St. Lawrence Seaway discharging ballast water containing live critters or eggs and larvae. Most notably have been the sea lamprey, which gained entrance to the lakes via the seaway locks, and the zebra mussel, known especially for clogging water plant intakes, dock pilings and river and lake bottoms used by spawning fish. Now, the threat of invasive has spread nationwide.
Anglers should do what they can, including cleaning their boats and equipment after any and all fishing trips, to protect against the spread of the invasive New Zealand mudsnail.