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NATURAL HERITAGE - Zebra Mussels

The path of the Zebra Mussel to the Corrib

Zebra mussels were first discovered in the Shannon in early 1993 and it was postulated that they arrived boats imported from the British midlands where they were present for many years. The first manifestation of their presence was die-off of salmon hatchery fish due to blocked water pipes. In 2001 two hundred adults were found in Lough Bo in Sligo while less than 10 specimens were found in Lough Gill. Subsequently, large numbers of zebra mussels were found in Lough Gill in 2004 and the municipal water supply was affected, the first instance of this in Ireland. Lough Neagh ws found to be affected in 2005. By 2005, the whole length of the river Shannon was infected. In September 2006 a small number of zebra mussels were found in Lough Conn.

Alarm bells rang around the Corrib and in an attempt to prevent the introduction of the zebra mussel, the Western Region Zebra Mussel Control Initiative (WRZMCI) was launched on Greenfields Pier and Ower House on 13th May 2004 with the aim of mounting a campaign to keep the Corrib free of the zebra mussel. The initiative was supported by the Natural Heritage Working Group of the Galway County Heritage Forum and the Western Regional Fisheries Board. Michael Hynes was appointed as the chairman and Aoife Thornton took on the role of eduction officer. Others who played key roles were Marie Mannion (Galway County Heritage Officer), Christina Sullivan (Galway County Council), Kevin Rogers (WRFB) and Lal Faherty of Oughterard

Key steps in the campaign were:

Education and Publicity

Funds were obtained to design and print posters and this initiative was launched by minister Eamonn O Cuiv on Oughterard Pier in May 2005.

A one-day seminar was held in the Clargalway Hotel on 9th March 2007 at which national and international speakers presented.

Disaster strikes

In a joint press release on 18th July 2007, Greg Forde of the WRFB and Michael Hynes (WRZMCI) announed that a small number of zebra mussels had been found in Ross Lake. How this happened is still unclear but it is probable that they were introduced by coarse anglers who had not disinfected their equipment as there was no boat traffic between Ross Lake and affected lakes.

Despite the intense efforts of all involved it was clear that the war to keep the Corrib clear of zebra mussels was lost and a press relese by the WRFB on 18th September 2007 confirmed the presence of numbers of zebra mussels in Lough Corrib. Since then the zebra mussel has spread to most parts of the Corrib from the Dooras Peninsula down to Galway and they can be found under any stone on the islands of the middle and lower lake. Due to the acid water in the western arm of the lake, the environment is not zebra mussel friendly and that stretch of water is largely clear of the pest.

Following this infestation, strenous efforts were made by the WRFB to protect the Mask. A biosecurity pland was put in place and anglers were exhorted to disinfect their boats before launching them in the Mask, however the response was less than whole hearted with the result that the efforts failed and the presence of zebra mussels in the Mask was confirmed in August 2009.

One of the issues noted during the WRZMVI campaing was the dearth of appropriate legislation in Ireland that might be used to prevent the introduction invasive species such as the zebra mussel. Coarse anglers regularly import live bait and there is little control of this. In one of the few instances of a prosecution, the trial judge lamented the absence of a custodial sentence in the legislation. Anglers also need to be much more proactive and ensure that they do not use contaminated gear. In Iceland and New Zealand, visiting anglers must present all their gear for inspection and if the Quarantine Inspector is not satisfied he will confiscate the gear and have it disinfected at considerable cost to the angler. Would that we had such legislation.