Battle against introduction of invasive mussels continues in Okanagan

The province says its inspectors checked 24,500 watercraft this summer and 17 were found to be contaminated.

The province and the Okanagan Basin Water Board are both trying hard to keep invasive mussels out of Okanagan Lake.

The province says it inspected 24,500 watercraft for invasive quagga and zebra mussels during the past boating season through its expanded Invasive Mussel Defence program.

The program, aimed at keeping the potentially dangerous and costly invasive mussels out of B.C. lakes and water bodies, was beefed up this year to include eight permanent inspection stations at major entry points along B.C.’s Alberta and U.S. borders and 32 trained inspection officers

The officers inspected a total of 683 watercraft identified as coming from a “high-risk” provinces or U.S. states and 17 were confirmed to have adult invasive mussels attached to them. Fourteen were from Ontario, with the other three from Manitoba, Michigan and Nevada.

In addition to the inspections, 92 decontamination orders were issued, as well as 46 tickets and 36 warnings issued to motorists who failed to stop at the watercraft inspection stations, as required by B.C. law.

“Invasive mussels may be tiny, but they pose a huge risk to B.C.’s ecosystems and economy,” said B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak in making the announcement of the 2016 numbers.

“That’s why we are working hard with our partners and neighbouring states and provinces to prevent the spread of invasive mussels. To date, no zebra or quagga mussels have been detected in B.C.”

The Okanagan Basin Water Board, which has its own Don’t Move A Mussel prevention program in place, has estimated that if Okanagan Lake became contaminated with zebra and quagga mussels, it could cost more than $40 million a year to deal with the problems they would cause.

In addition to the work of the provincial inspectors, boats coming into B.C. were also flagged by the Canadian Border Services Agency, as well as Canadian and United States partner agencies, this summer.

Part of the mussel defence program is education and outreach and Victoria says crews promoted the “Clean, Drain, Dry” message to more than 49,000 people. The message tells not only boat owners, but owners of anything that goes in potentially infected waters—such as personal watercraft, belly boats and even hip waders worn by anglers—that they need to clean and dry their equipment property to make sure no mussels are attached that could be transported into to B.C. waters.

Following a successful pilot program in 2015, the provincial program was expanded earlier this year with a $2-million funding boost from BC Hydro, FortisBC, Columbia Power and the Columbia Basin Trust, as well as the province’s in-kind contribution of staff, office space, and equipment.

Invasive mussels threaten native species and fisheries in lakes and rivers. They clog water intake pipes, leading to increased maintenance costs for hydroelectric, domestic water, industrial, agricultural and recreational facilities. And they damage boat engines.

The economic impact of the mussels to hydropower, agricultural irrigation, municipal water supplies and recreational boating has been estimated to be $43 million per year. This estimate does not include the impact on commercial and recreational fisheries.

Failing to stop at a watercraft inspection station in B.C. is a ticketable offence. Vehicles transporting smaller watercraft, such as kayaks and canoes, and related equipment are not exempt.

Anyone who transports a boat into or within B.C. needs to clean the boat, trailer and other equipment by completely removing aquatic animals, plants and mud, drain all water out of bilges, ballast tanks, engines or live wells, and ensure the boat is dry.

 

During the 2015 pilot program, 4,300 boats were inspected. Of those, 70 were identified as coming from a high-risk region, 34 required decontamination, 15 were confirmed to be transporting invasive mussels and six were quarantined for 30 days due to the risk of live mussels.