With boaters returning to Interior lakes for the summer, efforts to contain the invasive zebra and quagga mussels are ramping up.
Pleasure craft being towed between bodies of water are a source for the spread of mussels, and organizations in the Shuswap and provincewide are trying to stop them from getting established in B.C. According to the Shuswap Watershed Council (SWC), increased movement of boats and other watercraft, to and from the Shuswap in the summer months, bring with it increased risk of accidental introduction of the mussels.
The stakes are high
The small freshwater mussels which are native to Europe, have spread to eastern and central Canada but have not yet infiltrated B.C. or Alberta. According to Robyn Hooper, executive director of the Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society, the mussels can create big problems in lakes by forming colonies that cling to underwater objects like boats, dock pilings, water supplies and irrigation systems. Maintenance can become a costly nuisance and it is impossible to get rid of the mussels completely.
“The mussels will litter beaches with their razor sharp shells. They produce foul odours, and they pollute water quality which puts the lake ecosystem and drinking water at risk,” added Erin Vieira, program manager for the SWC.
Viera said even though the exact state of the tourism season in the Shuswap is unknown due to COVID-19 restrictions, they are still taking the problem mussels seriously.
“It could take just one infested watercraft launching into the Shuswap to start a new population of invasive mussels here,” she said.
Hooper offered a pair of preventative measures that the owners of watercraft can take to help prevent the spread of the invasive mussels. First of all, boaters should clean, drain and dry watercraft every time they move it between bodies of water. As the invasive mussel threat is most likely to come from out of the province, Hooper said it is important that people towing boats stop at the check stations at entry points into B.C. The check stations are staffed by conservation officers who offer free inspection and, if necessary, decontamination. From now until October, the conservation officers will be checking boats with a pair of specially trained detection dogs named Kilo and Major.
Last year, conservation officers conducted more than 52,000 inspections resulting in 22 mussel-fouled boats coming from Ontario, Michigan, Utah and North Carolina being identified before reaching B.C. waterways.
Watercraft inspection isn’t required for travellers within B.C.; however, the SWC wants Shuswap residents to help raise awareness for the importance of inspection.
“We encourage residents to talk to their out-of-province family and friends that plan to travel to the Shuswap with their watercraft,” said Vieira. “The more people that know about invasive mussels and watercraft inspection, the less vulnerable we are to an infestation.”