• Zebra mussels are a major problem for Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg, shown here. (Photo: Shahnoor Habib Munmun/Wikimedia Commons)

Lake Winnipeg’s ecosystem is likely to experience “a complete and eventual collapse” because of invasive zebra mussels, says a University of Winnipeg biologist.

Eva Pip told Global News in October that the zebra mussel problem in the lake was an irreversible problem, adding that the situation is so far gone it could be as little as two years before people start to see the effects of the mussels on the lake’s ecosystem.

“The only way to deal with this is to not let the problem start in the first place and we certainly missed the boat on that now,” Pip told Global. “What we can do now is try to slow the spread into other lakes and rivers in Manitoba. But once you have the numbers that we already have in Lake Winnipeg, that becomes a very daunting issue.”

The mussels were first spotted in the lake in 2013, the CBC reported, and have since proliferated to the point where boats are being pulled from the lake completely covered in the creature.

The lake, which is the tenth largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, is of huge economic and cultural value. According to the government of Manitoba, more than 23,000 permanent residents live in 30 communities along its shores, including 11 First Nations communities. In 2010-2011, 1,069 licensed fishers and their helpers were employed in the commercial fishery on Lake Winnipeg. During the same period, the total landed value of commercial fish production from the lake was $16,259,317.