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Invasive mussels found in Pacific Northwest could cost taxpayers ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’

UPDATED: Fri., March 5, 2021

A zebra mussel, a feared aquatic invasive species, was found Wednesday in a Betta Buddy brand Marimo moss ball at a Petco store in Coeur d’Alene.  (SSR)
A zebra mussel, a feared aquatic invasive species, was found Wednesday in a Betta Buddy brand Marimo moss ball at a Petco store in Coeur d’Alene. (SSR)

An invasive Zebra mussel found Wednesday in the Pacific Northwest could cost taxpayers “hundreds of thousands of dollars” if it spreads.

The mussels, an invasive species from the Black Sea region, clump together and clog pipes and destroy parts of dams, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The mussels’ spread would cause skyrocketing mitigation costs and hydroelectricity prices, said Allen Pleus, the aquatic invasive species unit manager for the department, at the department’s Friday news conference.

The cost will land mostly on the shoulders of small business owners, Native American reservations and low-income communities, he said.

The mollusks, originating in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, had previously been spotted in every United States region except the Pacific Northwest, he said. The Columbia River Basin is the last large river system in the continental U.S. free of the mussels, Pleus said.

“We have a very robust program to keep it that way,” Pleus said.

Thanks to that program and established protocols and lines of communication, Pleus said the department and nation were able to work quickly.

“This was an amazing response, the fastest response I’ve ever seen nationally for this type of situation,” Pleus said.

Within hours of the discovery of the mussel in a moss ball sold at a Coeur d’Alene Petco, the department had received reports of the mussels found in moss balls at pet stores in Montana, Oregon and Florida, said Capt. Eric Anderson, who heads the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement program.

Petco held an emergency corporate-level meeting Wednesday morning and moved to pull all of the moss balls from their store shelves, Anderson said. These were then quarantined.

Authorities then traced the moss balls to a distributor in California that was sending out 100,000 moss balls every two weeks for some time, Anderson said.

As the Washington agency started working with departments in California, Florida and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, they learned that the California distributor and two others in Florida were getting the moss balls, wild-caught in Ukraine, from a single distributor in Europe, Anderson said.

The department is hopeful the outbreak can be contained as the moss balls are intended for aquarium use, he said.

“We want people to be good aquarium owners,” Anderson said. “Do not let these go.”

People who have the moss balls should put them in a plastic bag and freeze them for at least 24 hours or boil them for at least one full minute before throwing them in the trash, according to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife news release.

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