Use of electrified fields to control dreissenid mussels

Science Center Objects

Zebra and quagga mussels were first introduced into the Great Lakes in the 1980’s and they have since expanded to over 750 inland lakes in addition to the 5 Great Lakes (, accessed 8/5/2015). A 2009 study conducted by the Idaho Aquatic Nuisance Species Taskforce estimated the annual economic threat of dreissenids to Idaho to be $94 million. A literature review conducted by Lovell and Stone (2005) demonstrates the difficulty and conflicting reports regarding the economic impact of zebra mussels with 10 year cost estimates ranging from $3 to $5 billion. Quagga mussels are now the dominate dreissenid species in the Great Lakes and they inhabit deeper waters and they subsist on lower levels of phytoplankton; intensifying their ecosystem impact.

In addition to drastically altering aquatic ecosystems and causing the extirpation of native mussels, dreissenids have more recently been linked to harmful algal blooms which threaten domestic drinking water supplies in Great Lakes communities. Dreissenid mussels have fouled once productive spawning habitats for lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and other fishes. Spawning surveys conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental Quality found very few lake trout spawning on Brocton Shoal, a historical spawning area that has experienced severe habitat degradation due to dreissenid colonization (Einhouse et al. 2013). Lake Erie’s Environmental Objectives recognize that the fish community continues to be negatively affected by biota mediated habitat degradation (Davies et al. 2005). One main objective identified is to “Halt cumulative incremental loss and degradation of fish habitat and reverse, where possible, loss and degradation of fish habitat.” The Lake Erie Habitat Task Group completed an assessment study in response to a Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fish Commission request to assess the quality, quantity and location of lake trout spawning habitat. Habitat improvement, including removing dreissenid mussels and sedimentation from historically prime spawning areas coupled with site monitoring, was cited as a research need in their report (Gorman et al. 2010). Marsden and Chotkowski (2001) found that clean cobble placed during construction activities was quickly utilized by spawning lake trout and that egg deposition was 11-29 times higher on the clean cobble, and egg damage was 129 times higher on dreissenid fouled substrate. They further found that lake trout will locate and utilize recently placed cobble for spawning. Therefore, it is logical that restoration of historical lake trout spawning areas will quickly result in utilization for spawning activities.

Dreissenid mussel management in open-water environments has largely been restricted to prevention as control measures currently available are limited and most chemical treatments are applicable only to defined discharge systems (e.g. water intakes for industrial systems). Previous work by Kolz et al. (1996) to evaluate electrified fields for dreissenid mussel control showed mortality of zebra mussels following exposure to voltage gradients of 2.5 V/cm (~ 1,875 µW/cm3) for 23 days. Furthermore, Kolz’s apparatus (patent #5805065; control apparatus for marine animals) was designed to induce mortality using AC at 60 HZ applied for 24-72 hours with a power density of 3,500-50,000 µW/cm3.  This study intends to determine the minimum voltage gradient required to induce dreissenid mussel mortality using an acute exposure (i.e. ≤ 1 minute). Various electrical waveforms will be evaluated at voltage gradients of  ≥ 20 V/cm to determine the parameters (i.e. voltage gradient, duty cycle, pulse frequency, pulse width, etc) necessary to achieve acute zebra mussel mortality.  


  1. To compare multiple electrical waveforms and parameters (voltage gradient, duty cycle, pulse width, exposure duration etc.) for inducing zebra mussel mortality, and to determine the optimal electrical waveform and minimum voltage gradient required to induce significant zebra mussel mortality.


Zebra Mussels, Dreissena polymorpha

(Credit: John Manier. Public domain.)


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Davies, D., B. Haas, L. Halyk, R. Kenyon, S. Mackey, J. Markham, E. Roseman, P. Ryan, J. Tyson, and E. Wright.  2005.  Lake Erie Environmental Objectives. Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

Einhouse, D.W., J.L. Markham, M.T. Todd, M.A. Wilkinson, D.L. Zeller, R.C. Zimar, and B.J. Beckwith.  2013.  NYS DEC Lake Erie 2012 Annual Report. New York State Department of Environment Conservation, Albany, New York, USA.

Gorman, A.M., S.D. Mackey, H. Biberhofer, P.M. Kocovsky, T. MacDougall, and J. Markham.  2010.  Identifying potential lake trout spawning habitat in Lake Erie.  Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act Final Report, Project 30181-8-G021.

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Kolz L.A., Johnson R.E., and Seamans T. 1996. Feasibility of using electrified fields in water to repel zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha). Final report QA-395, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Denver Wildlife Research Center, Denver, Colorado, USA.

Lovell, S. J. and Stone, S. F. 2005.The economic impacts of aquatic invasive species: a review of the literature. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Working Paper #05-02, 64 p.

Marsden, J.E. and Chotkowski M.A. 2001. Lake trout spawning on artificial reefs and the effect of zebra mussels: fatal attraction?. Journal of Great Lakes Research 27(1), 33-43.