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More of the fight against zebra mussels is going to the dogs

You've heard of drug-sniffing dogs. How about zebra mussel-sniffing ones?

Expect an uptick in the state budget for dog treats.

With Minnesota's walleye fishing opener around the corner, some new inspectors are on board to check for invasive species – and they're of the K9 variety.

The Department of Natural Resources introduced two new officers Thursday who are specially trained to find zebra mussels on boats or trailers and keep them from spreading to more Minnesota lakes.

Newcomers Shelby and Storm, both German shorthair pointers, join Brady and Reggie to double the number of K9s looking for invasive stowaways.

Jason Beckmann, the K9 unit coordinator, tells MPR News the dogs can locate mussels that are too small or too hidden for human inspectors to find. "They can be up inside of motors, in bilges, live wells, things like that, that an inspector might not be able to see. And a dog can still smell that," Beckmann says.

When boating season ends, Shelby and Storm – like the DNR's other K9s – will sniff out poached animals and fish, recover evidence, protect officers, and help find missing people.

The Zebra Mussel fight

K9s are just part of the strategy to limit the spread of zebra mussels in Minnesota's lakes and rivers.

The DNR says there are also more boat inspectors trained by the agency, more decontamination sites around the state, and they're getting the public more involved in preventing the spread.

The DNR says everyone who goes boating is legally required to help in three ways:

  • Clean all the plants and gunk off your boat, motor, and trailer when you leave a lake
  • Drain all the water out of your boat and keep the drain plug out while traveling
  • Dispose of any leftover bait in the trash, not in the lake

Zebra mussels arrived in North America nearly 30 years ago in ballast water from Great Lakes ships that had crossed the Atlantic. They have no predators here and they reproduce really fast, suffocating native mussels and taking food and space away from other underwater creatures.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says parts of the Mississippi River have 100,000 zebra mussels per square yard and they sometimes clog water pipes.

More than 2,000 of Minnesota's lakes and rivers are infested with zebra mussels (find a list of them here) but the DNR notes that's still only 2 percent of the state's waterways.

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