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July 30, 2021
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3 Utah PetSmart locations halt fish sales out of concern for zebra mussels

AMERICAN FORK – Fish sales have been paused at three PetSmart locations along the Wasatch Front due to a suspicion of invasive zebra mussels.

The company confirmed that the PetSmart location in American Fork was one of the impacted stores but did not give a location for the other two stores.

The current threat has been traced to aquarium Marimo moss balls contaminated with zebra mussels that were shipped to Petco and PetSmart locations in early March.

“We continue to follow guidance from regulatory agencies closely, and where there is suspicion of potential zebra mussels, out of an abundance of caution, we suspend fish sales to ensure our aquariums can be treated properly. This is the case for a few of the stores in the Salt Lake City area,” said a statement released by the company.

Zebra mussels and their cousin, quagga mussels, and can have devastating impacts on ecosystems and water infrastructure.

“When we first learned of the situation, we immediately instructed our stores to remove impacted moss balls from our shelves and destroy them,” the statement said. “We also proactively contacted customers to provide information and resources about responsible disposal.”

PetSmart said it expects to resume fish sales at the affected stores within the next week.

The company issued a product withdrawal notice on March 6, advising customers with the impacted moss balls to bring it back to a PetSmart location for a refund and so that the moss balls could be disposed of properly.

“Zebra mussels are regarded as one of the most destructive invasive species in North America,” PetSmart’s voluntary product withdrawal notice said. “They can quickly take over once they get established in a waterbody and cause significant damage including disrupting the food chain, changing the chemistry of the water and clogging water intake and delivery systems.”

Those customers who can’t return the moss balls to a store have been instructed to follow instructions from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on how to kill the zebra mussels and clean aquariums.

According to the website, there are three ways to destroy the infected moss balls:

  • Freeze: Place the moss ball into a sealable plastic bag and freeze for at least 24 hours.
  • Boil: Place the moss ball in boiling water for at least 1 full minute.
  • Bleach/Vinegar: Submerge the moss ball in regular, unscented bleach, diluted to 1/3 cup per gallon of water, for 10 minutes; or undiluted white vinegar for 20 minutes.

After the treatment, the wildlife service instructs to put the moss ball and any of the original packing in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash.

“Moss balls or untreated water should not be disposed of in any location where they could reach local waterways,” said the instructions from U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

An image of a tiny zebra mussel pulled from a Betta Buddy Marimo Ball provided by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources on Thursday, March 4, 2021.
An image of a tiny zebra mussel pulled from a Betta Buddy Marimo Ball provided by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources on Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Photo: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

Lt. Bruce Johnson monitors for aquatic invasive species for Utah’s Division of Wildlife resources.

“We did have pet stores across the state of Utah that were in possession of containers with moss balls and zebra mussels,” Johnson said.

He went to the American Fork PetSmart on Thursday and said he didn’t see any signs of zebra mussels in the tanks. Johnson said he plans to follow up with the store manager.

The concern at the American Fork location is that any invasive species put down the drain would reach nearby Utah Lake, Johnson said. The only body of water currently infested with invasive mussels is Lake Powell and wildlife officials have been working since 2013 to keep the mussels from spreading.

“We’ve concentrated and focused our efforts on what were the obvious vectors for zebra and quagga mussels, which were the boats that were traveling to and from, and now we’ve found a new vector that we’re addressing,” Johnson said about the moss balls shipped to pet stores.

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