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Alex Cabrero, Deseret News
For the second time in five years New Zealand mud snails have been found at the Loa State Fish Hatchery. It will take several months to disinfect the hatchery.
It's going to require a major shuffle among the hatcheries, but that's our job, and we'll do it. —Terry Howick, fish culture supervisor for the DWR

LOA, Wayne County — Tiny invasive snails found at the Loa State Fish Hatchery is forcing the Division of Wildlife Resources to do some major shuffling among hatcheries to keep waters stocked for anglers.

The New Zealand snail, which is only 3/16 of an inch long, was found during a routine inspection of the hatchery in mid-August.

"We're not sure how snails found their way into the hatchery again," says Terry Howick, fish culture supervisor for the DWR. "The number of snails is fairly small, but they're widespread throughout the hatchery." The snails were also found in 2007.

The DWR is concerned about this aquatic invasive species, because it only takes one to establish a colony and some research has shown the snails overpower the bottoms of lakes and rivers, leaving nothing for the fish to eat.

“It’s not sure, exactly, what the damage may be to the environment, but we don’t want to risk any of that,” he said. It doesn’t appear they are dangerous to people or fish.

Pat Brown, who works at the hatchery, questions how invasive the snails are. "The research doesn't show any real detriment to the fisheries, so it's, in my opinion, kind of how invasive it is? It's non-native. How invasive? I question," Brown said.

Howick said it will take four to five months to disinfect the hatchery. “I’m confident we can get rid of them out of the raceway where the fish are,” Brown said, “but it’s the underground pipes that are really, really hard to treat.”

Most of the trout the hatchery raises are typically placed in waters in southern Utah. Howick said stocking schedules will be adjusted because of the snails.

“Even though it’s rare for a fish to pass a life mud snail into the water, we’re not going to take any chances,” Howick said. “From now on, fish from Loa will be placed only in waters that already have New Zealand mud snails in them.”

Those waters include the Green, Weber and Ogden rivers. Waters that used to be stocked with fish from Loa will receive fish from other hatcheries. A little more money will be required to transport the fish, but biologists don't want to infect waters that currently don't have the mud snail.

"It's going to require a major shuffle among the hatcheries, but that's our job, and we'll do it," Howick said.

Total production statewide shouldn’t vary at all. Anglers won’t see any changes in numbers, pounds or frequency of stock waters, Howick said. “It’s all going to be the same,” he said.

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The snails are easy to spread. “It’s probably transferred, I’m sorry to say, by anglers in their waders, felt-tip waders is probably the big culprit here,” Howick said. The DWR said the best way to prevent the snails from contaminating waters is for anglers to disinfect their equipment with Formula 409 All-Purpose Cleaner and let them dry in the sun for an hour before re-using them.

Brown said discovery of the snails doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world for the hatchery.

“We’re just going to do our best to try to get rid of them here and continue to stock positive waters,” he said.

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com

Twitter: ksl_alexcabrero