May long weekend is upon us. For many in B.C., that means our attention turns to the lakes and rivers, and a plethora of water-based activities including boating, fishing, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding.
For two Columbia Shuswap-based organizations, it means it’s time to turn up the heat on invasive species prevention efforts. The increased movement of boats and other types of watercraft into and around the area means that there’s an increased risk of an accidental introduction of zebra and quagga mussels, which are small freshwater mussels native to Europe with tremendous destructive potential.
The Shuswap Watershed Council and the Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society are working together to try to prevent just that from happening.
“Zebra and quagga mussels would create enormous problems in the Shuswap because they cling to, colonize, and encrust any hard surface under water: boats, dock pilings, water supply and irrigation systems – anything. Once they’ve been introduced to a lake, it’s impossible to get rid of them for good,” said Robyn Hooper, Executive Director of the Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society.
Apparently, that’s not all.
“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 Shuswap Watershed Council.
“The primary way the mussels would get to the Shuswap is by ‘hitch hiking’ on boats, fishing gear, or other watercraft such as canoes and stand-up paddleboards from other lakes where the mussels occur,” said Vieira. “We can keep them out, as long as we follow a couple preventative measures.”
Hooper said the mussels aren’t known to be established anywhere in B.C., but they do occur in lakes in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and several states.
Watercraft owners ought to clean, drain, and dry their watercraft every time they move from one waterbody to another.
In 2018 the provincial watercraft inspection program, which is run by the BC Conservation Officer service, intercepted 25 mussel-fouled watercraft.
“This number seems low, but it’s very scary. It will only take a single contaminated watercraft launching in the Columbia or Shuswap to establish invasive mussels here,” said Hooper.
Both organizations recently shared their concerns with a parliamentary committee that’s reviewing the national Aquatic Invasive Species Program.
Any suspected transport or possession of zebra and quagga mussels should be reported to the Provincial RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277. For more information about bringing a boat into B.C., visit the provincial website https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/invasive-mussels. For more information on zebra and quagga mussels, visit shuswapwater.ca.