BILLINGS — Following the busiest year on record for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in catching aquatic invasive species from entering Montana, a new challenge has presented itself in a way officials never saw coming.
“Having zebra mussels enter in this other unique way was really kind of shocking,” said FWP information officer for the aquatic invasive species division Liz Lodman.
Zebra mussels are found in aquarium moss balls sold in Montana pet stores, ranging from Bozeman, Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Billings, Missoula, and Kalispell.
FWP was notified on March 3 that zebra mussels were detected in aquarium moss balls sold at a pet store in Washington.
“And so, we immediately send some of our staff out to check pet stores in Montana to see if we had that problem as well, and they did find zebra mussels and moss balls in Montana,” said Lodman.
Lodman says the good news is the mussels were dead shells. The moss balls, which are primarily used in aquarium tanks as a way to clean the water, were imported from Ukraine to a distributor in California and were shipped to pet stores nationwide.
“There's one distributor that had the problem, and it's gone nationwide so they have found mussels in moss balls from Alaska to Florida. So, it's really a nationwide issue, and probably in Canada as well,” said Lodman.
The facility that imports the moss balls has been quarantined and all shipments of moss balls have been stopped. That’s because now there’s a national response to the issue and officials are urging users to know how to properly dispose of them, said Lodman.
“Because you could be dumping an invasive fish, snail, frog, invasive plants, and then the tank water could have disease or pathogens that we don't want to natural waterways,” she said. “So, tank owners just need to take care of how they dispose of things in their tank.”
Sadly, live mussels were found on moss balls in Oregon and Idaho, which, of course, surround Montana. “We are working really hard to keep invasive mussels out of Montana,” said Lodman.
And they have been. Lodman says 2020 was a huge year for Montana and recreation. “You know, everybody was stuck at home and they wanted to do something, so we saw a lot of traffic coming into Montana to recreate."
Last season was the busiest for FWP and the boat check inspection locations, with 35 interceptions of boats with mussels headed to Montana waterways. “We just asked all recreators to just do the right thing and make sure their watercraft and gear is clean drain and dry.”
If you have recently purchased moss balls, remove them from the water, place them in a plastic bag, and put them in the freezer overnight. Officials say don’t dispose of your aquarium tank water in your household drain. It can harbor pathogens and diseases. Dispose of tank water on the ground away from waterways.
Anyone with questions can contact the Montana Aquatic Invasive Species hotline at (406) 444-2440.