Province responds to public pressure

The Lake Windermere Ambassadors have been calling for action to prevent the spread of invasive mussels in local waters

The Lake Windermere Ambassadors have been calling for action to prevent the spread of invasive mussels in local waters for some time, and the provincial government has taken an important first step to defend B.C. lakes and rivers.

On March 31st, the province announced a $1.3 million boost toward early detection of zebra and quagga mussels, as well as rapid response.

“There has been a tremendous amount of public pressure on government to take responsibility for ensuring that British Columbia’s waterways do not become infested with invasive mussels,” said Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald. “Other jurisdictions have been much quicker than British Columbia to take action, and that has been a huge concern.”

Although they’ve never been detected in British Columbia, quagga and zebra mussels have become a nightmare in Ontario and Manitoba, and watercraft being transferred from these regions into British Columbia could result in a similar infestation here, he said.

Zebra and quagga mussels were introduced to the Great Lake region in the 1980s by vessels travelling from Europe. Not native to North America, these mussels kill native mussels and clams and reduce native fish species by altering the aquatic food web. Ministry of Environment documents state that “if zebra or quagga mussels become established in B.C., they could decimate sockeye salmon and kokanee fisheries as a result of the irreversible ecological challenges they could induce.”

They also attach to aquatic plants and submerged surfaces, including piers, pilings, and water intakes if left unchecked, zebra and quagga mussels can damage boat motors, cover hard surfaces and clog pipes, leading to increased maintenance costs.

“It only takes one contaminated boat to infect a water body. And once the infestation begins, it cannot be reversed,” said Macdonald. “But the proof will be in the implementation of the plan, and whether or not the government chooses to extend and expand the program. One summer will not solve this issue. A commitment must be made by government to take this seriously, not just this year but permanently.”

The strengthened invasive mussel defence program begins operations this month (April) for the 2015 boating season.

Through this program, teams will inspect and, if necessary, decontaminate boats entering B.C. from Alberta. They also will respond to boats from the U.S. identified as a concern by the Canadian Border Services Agency, as well as U.S. partner agencies.

Twenty-four new highway signs featuring the Clean, Drain, Dry program are also being installed at significant entry points into the province, and education and outreach activities will be increased.

“Taking positive and proactive action against invasive mussels is a very important step to protect our waters,” said Barry Gibbs, chair of the Invasive Species Council of BC.“(We) will continue to expand partnerships and raise awareness of the ‘Clean, Drain, Dry’ program, especially among boaters, marinas and lakeshore residents.”

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