Tuesday, September 17, 2019

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ZEBRA MUSSEL SCOURGE?


IS THE BLIGHT OVER?

Journalists, like smart lawyers in a courtroom, should generally have a good idea about the answer when they pose a question.
Except this time I don't.
Once upon a time, I was part of the chorus of alarm about how zebra mussels were the great and growing menace in Ontario's cottage country and in all the streams and lakes that had anything to do with the Great Lakes.
The invasion of the mussels had transformed our rivers and lakes, plugging intake pipes, cutting hands and feet, and generally being a pain in other parts for boaters, swimmers and waders.
I didn't work in the Trent River without gloves and old shoes, that is if I didn't want to suffer countless paper cuts. In effect,  I used armour whenever I set out to repair the shoreline or a dock. And it was yet another reason for scaredy-cat kids not to go into the water no matter how much their sweating dad yelled.
But then the other day I swam out to one speed marker in the Northumberland Narrows which is ignored by 99% of the boaters, 100% of the Sea-Doos and 125%  of the OPP. Supposedly you are limited to 10 km/h (which is like a fast walk) which just happens to be the major speed limit close to the shore for most of Canada.
As I clung there (and a tidal wave thrown up by a passing yacht rolled over me) I noticed that on the barrel of the marker were a few zebra mussels. I can remember when there would have been several layers and if I had not been cautious, I would have tiny cuts that would have stung as if they were inflicted by a sword.
So I swam along the shoreline of Burnt Point when I returned to my cottage, watching out for personal water craft which are the bumble bee curse of cottage country, and found only a few mussels on border rocks which once would have been coated.
So my question for the experts who used to write about the mussel menace since it was imported from Europe in the ballast water of a freighter is whether the mussels are in a lull, part of a boom or bust cycle which is common to Nature, or whether they have eaten themselves out of house and home and are just going to go away, another of the great blights that were going to ruin the world but then petered out over time.
The Internet is still stuffed with features about the billions of dollars in damage that zebra mussels were inflicting on us. Plenty of coverage about how they were changing fishing even as they were killing off other species.
But no stories about how in recent years the zebra mussels just seemed to have largely gone away without anyone noticing. I hope that is true. It certainly seems to be the situation in my stretch of the Trent River, and I hope devoutly that it is true for much of Ontario.
But I really don't know! Do you!


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