Gimli fishermen are worried about what the arrival of zebra mussels in Lake Winnipeg will mean for their livelihoods.

On Thursday, provincial officials announced for the first time the invasive species had been found in the lake and could have been there for more than a year.

'Absolutely no way you’ll get rid of them. You hope they’ll outstrip the food supply, and their numbers will drop.' - Gerrie Mackie, University of Guelph biologist

“It’s not good,” said Eric Goodman, who has been fishing in the lake for the past five decades. “They clog up everything. When you’re lifting nets, they hang on your nets and onto the anchors.”

The mussels were found on Goodman’s boat, clinging to the hull, so the province sent samples to University of Guelph biologist Gerrie Mackie.

“Absolutely no way you’ll get rid of them,” said Mackie. “You hope they’ll outstrip the food supply, and their numbers will drop. That certainly happened in the Great Lakes.”

Makie said the mussels have changed the water clarity of the Great Lakes and made beaches hazardous to walk on. They’ve also clogged water intake and outtake systems.

“There were changes in the fish communities in time. There’s definitely a huge impact, and it’s probably going to be realized in the first 10 years,” said Mackie.

Mackie said natural species in the area will also suffer, as mussels rely on the same foods.

Mackie said Manitoba’s mussels have likely been in the water for more than a year, based on their size when they were discovered.

Zebra mussels

Zebra mussels like these were discovered in Lake Manitoba. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

“Something this size has been there more than one year. You're not just getting it. You've had it for a while,” he said.

St. Boniface University biologist Fernand Saurette said it was just a matter of time before the mussel turned up in Lake Winnipeg.

“There’s a lot of nutrient in Lake Winnipeg and that’s food for the mussel, and they’ll outcompete the native species of clams,” said Suarette. “And that is unfortunate.”

It’s bad news for Gimli fisherman Nolan Batenchuk, who relies on the health of the lake for his livelihood.

“I’ll double check everything [for mussels],” he said. “It could ruin us!”

Provincial officials said it’s still unclear how much of a problem the mussels will become for the industry.

“It will depend on how well it ends up establishing itself in Lake Winnipeg. We can’t tell that in this early stage,” said Laureen Janusz, a fish biologist with Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship.

Janusz added the province will be setting up mobile decontamination units around the lake to help prevent the spread.

Boaters and fishermen are advised to wash their boats thoroughly, drain water from their boats, dry all of their equipment and throw unwanted bait away from waterways.