Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration

A Neutral Forum for Conflict Resolution and Consensus Building

Zebra Mussels Task Force Project

Project Summary

The zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) is considered an aquatic invasive species. It was accidentally introduced to North America in the late 1980’s by commercial shipping vessels carrying freshwater ballast from the Black or Caspian Sea region of Eastern Europe. Within ten years of its discovery in Lake Erie in 1987, the zebra mussel had spread throughout much of central and eastern North America. Zebra mussels which attach themselves to solid objects (such as boat hulls) have caused ecological and economic damage throughout North America. Once established in a water body, they have the potential to alter basic ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling and may transport harmful contaminants.

Zebra mussels invaded Berkshire County’s Laurel Lake in July 2009, endangering aquatic life in Massachusetts lakes, rivers, ponds, and reservoirs. Massachusetts initially responded with interim measures to reduce the spread of zebra mussels. Then in November 2009, a stakeholder working group consisting of a freshwater wetlands scientist and representatives from the Department of Conservation and Recreation Lakes and Ponds Program, Department of Fish and Game’s Office of Fishing and Boating Access, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Massachusetts Environmental Police, sportsmen's, boating, and lakes associations, among others, was convened to recommend an updated action plan to tackle the state’s zebra mussel problem. The group was called the Zebra Mussel Task Force (ZMTF).

The Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC) was engaged by EEA to assist with the design and facilitation of the task force process. Using best practices for public engagement, consensus building, and collaborative governance, MOPC worked to design an inclusive process by assisting the ZMTF in identifying potential stakeholders and by creating a neutral forum in which people with diverse interests could come together to problem-solve and work toward the common goal of protecting the commonwealth’s valuable natural resources. During its meetings, the task force engaged in a deliberative dialogue about participants’ interests, areas of concern, and potential options for action. Mindful of the different interests implicated – the need to exclude vessels from infected water ways, the right of access to water bodies for recreation and fishing, and the public’s responsibility to maintain natural resources – the task force issued recommendations and articulated the differences that prevented consensus.

The ZMTF recommended steps to reduce the risk of the spread of zebra mussels, such as education and outreach efforts through websites, signage, brochures, and informational materials accompanying vessel registration, licensing, etc.; mandatory vessel decontamination procedures with self-certification; enforcement of decontamination requirements, including penalties for violations; heightened boat ramp monitoring at various sites; legislation to support recommendations; and future endeavors to reduce zebra mussel and other invasive aquatic species in Massachusetts waters, including a dedicated revenue stream to fund efforts to study and control aquatic infestations. Recommendations to deny access to infected waters like Laurel Lake were not forthcoming due to disagreements over the impact of zebra mussel containment on the right to waterway access.

Implementation of ZMTF recommendations is under way. In 2011, full-time monitoring was instituted at eight boat ramps and a boat wash facility was established at Laurel Lake. Additionally, legislation is pending, which authorizes the Department of Conservation and Recreation to set up an aquatic nuisance control program and to enforce related rules and regulations with penalties, including progressive fines.


Downing's lakes and ponds protection initiative passes the Senate. (May 20, 2010). Retrieved May 2, 2012, from

Massachusetts moves to prevent spread of zebra mussels. (May 17, 2011).  The Associated Press. 

Quinn, Colleen. (February 2, 2012). Bill adds fines to protect state lakes from invasive species. The Boston Globe. Retrieved May 2, 2012, from

Zebra Mussel Task Force final recommendations. Retrieved May 7, 2012, from