Invasive mussels pushing their way to B.C.

Invasive mussels that devastated lakes in eastern North America are getting closer to B.C.

CLUSTERS OF QUAGGA and zebra mussels have been found on at least eight boats entering the Okanagan and officials are concerned some are being missed.

Invasive mussels that devastated lakes in eastern North America are getting closer to B.C.

Montana declared a statewide natural resource emergency after the freshwater zebra and quagga mussels were discovered in that state, prompting the Okanagan Basin Water Board to again urge federal and B.C. governments to step up defenses.

“We wish to again express our deep concern that not enough action is being taken to prevent invasive mussels from spreading within the Pacific Northwest,” reads a letter from OBWB chair Doug Findlater sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — also Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs — along with other federal cabinet members.

Read more: More resources need to prevent spread of mussels

The OBWB has been calling on senior levels of government for stronger efforts to prevent the spread of the mussels since 2012. Findlater said there has been improvements, like federal legislation allowing Canada Border Service Agency officers to interview boaters coming into Canada and notify the province when a watercraft inspection is needed.

In 2016 the province, with financial help from Fortis BC, BC Hydro, Columbia Power and Columbia Basin Trust, introduced eight inspection stations, operating 8-10 hours a day, seven days a week, April to October.

“We are pleased to see this, but there are still gaps in our defence, with inconsistent enforcement at our borders, and inspection hours that are not long enough. This, and more, needs to be fixed now, before next year’s boating season,” Findlater stated in a release.

Last month, the B.C. government reported on its summer mussel inspection program. Of 683 watercraft identified as coming from a high-risk province or U.S. state, 17 were confirmed to be carrying adult invasive mussels, with 14 coming from Ontario and the other three from Manitoba, Michigan and Nevada.

Read more: Battle against introduction of invasive mussels continues in Okanagan

Crews also issued 92 decontamination orders, as well as 46 tickets and 36 warnings to passing motorists with watercraft who failed to stop at the inspection stations as required by B.C. law.

“Infested watercraft have been intercepted on their way to the Okanagan. This, coupled with the fact that we have calcium-rich waters, known to put us at higher-risk for infection, means more needs to be done,” said Findlater.

The OBWB is calling for the federal government, the Water Board is calling for increased training and funding for border services and increased funding for containment to Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba which are already infested.

Read more: Penticton station will be line of defence against invasive species

For mussel-free provinces, the OBWB wants increased funding for prevention, and a commitment to research and education for prevention, containment, control and eradication methods.

It would also like to see the governments follow through on requests made in the spring to expand inspection station hours and increase the number of conservation officers, along with legislation requiring all watercraft to report to inspection stations.

“It would only take one piece of mussel-fouled equipment to ruin our fishery, our beaches, tourism, harm our drinking water, economy, and more. We all have a responsibility here,” said Findlater.

An 2013 study conducted for the OBWB estimated that zebra or quagga mussels could cost at least $43 million each year to the Okanagan alone, in lost revenue, added maintenance of aquatic infrastructure and irreparable ecological damage.

For more information on the mussels, risks to the Okanagan, and prevention tips, visit DontMoveAMussel.ca.