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Shuswap group calls for greater federal commitment on mussel prevention

Watercraft inspection stations are the most important prevention tool we have’
The Shuswap Watershed Council is calling on the federal government for greater financial commitment towards preventive measures around invasive mussels. (BC Conservation Officer Service photo)

The federal government is being called out in the Columbia Shuswap for a concerning lack of commitment towards measures preventing the spread of invasive mussels.

At its February meeting, Columbia Shuswap Regional District directors agreed to add its voice to a request from the Okanagan Basin Board that Ottawa continue to fund B.C.’s Invasive Mussels Defence Program.

“It has come to our attention that federal funding to support B.C.’s Invasive Mussel Defence Program may be reduced or cancelled this year, and further, that other funding partners are citing a lack of federal leadership as justification to cancel or reduce their funding,” wrote Okanagan Basin Board chair Sue McKortoff in a letter to the federal government. “This is just as the threat of invasive mussels has dramatically increased, with a confirmed infestation in the transboundary Columbia Basin.”

The Shuswap Watershed Council (SWC) has since submitted its own letter to several federal ministers about funding. The SWC said the federal government’s recently announced commitment to funding the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF), which will support water monitoring by stewardship groups on over 65 water bodies as well as two new decontamination trailers for B.C., does not go far enough. According to the SWC, a greater commitment is needed around prevention.

“Watercraft inspection stations are the most important prevention tool we have,” said SWC chair Jay Simpson in a media release. “Quagga mussels were confirmed in Idaho late last year, the closest known infestation to B.C. The appropriate response would be to increase funding and ramp up watercraft inspections in B.C.”

The SWC’s letter to the federal ministers (Fishires, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard; Public Safety, Democratic Institutions, and Intergovernmental Affairs; Transport; and Environment and Climate Change), calls for immediate, long-term federal funding assistance for B.C. to support invasive mussel prevention. It references a May 2023 report by the B.C. Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship that estimates an invasion of zebra/quagga mussels would cost the province between $64 million and $129 million annually to mitigate.

“If Zebra or Quagga mussels arrive in the Shuswap, the cost of dealing with them will impact everyone here,” said SWC program manager Erin Vieira.

In a Feb. 14 news release, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that in addition to the HCTF funding, “DFO is continually working on new initiatives focused on detecting and responding to reports of imminent aquatic invasive species invasions including at international borders, and facilitating on-the-ground preventative action through partnerships.”

Read more: Possible funding cut to mussel program alarms Columbia Shuswap board

Read more: Kelowna Chamber leads regional push to keep invasive mussels out of B.C.