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Associated Press, Published July 01 2010

UPDATED: Young zebra mussel found in Red River

WAHPETON, N.D. — A young zebra mussel, considered a nuisance species in the Great Lakes, has been found in the Red River, between Wahpeton and neighboring Breckenridge, Minn., North Dakota wildlife officials said Thursday.

Officials say the mussels first infested the Great Lakes two decades ago. They have been found in other states and officials had been bracing for the species to surface in North Dakota.

"We are disappointed but not surprised that zebra mussels have entered the Red River," said Lynn Schlueter, the state Game and Fish Department's aquatic nuisance species coordinator.

"The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources found them in the Red River watershed in the Pelican Lake chain well upstream of Wahpeton-Breckenridge last fall. And again this spring new mussel infestations were documented in Minnesota upstream of the Red River, including in Lake Lizzie," Schlueter said.

Zebra mussels are a nuisance because they compete with native species, clog water intakes and sink docks and buoys with their weight.

What was discovered in the Wahpeton area is known as a veliger — a microscopic free-swimming zebra mussel that can float for weeks before eventually attaching to something and growing into a dime-size mussel. Once they are established they reproduce rapidly, with one female producing up to 1 million eggs a season, according to Game and Fish.

Wildlife officials plan to continue monitoring of the Red River for adult zebra mussels.

Laws already are in place in North Dakota to prevent the spread of nuisance water species. They include such requirements as cleaning boats before moving them.

"Zebra mussels, like most aquatic nuisance species, are extremely difficult and costly to eliminate once they are established, but what we can do is minimize the potential for people to transport them elsewhere," Schlueter said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.