The estimated cost of dealing with a mussel infestation could be as high $50 million for the Okanagan and Shuswap, but so far, the region is free of the devastating invasive species.
According to Maddy Laslett of the B.C. Invasive Mussel Defence Program, if these mussels take root in a freshwater lake or river they will multiply and spread extremely fast, causing numerous problems for both local ecosystems and man-made infrastructure.
Laslett joined other speakers from the Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society (CSISS) and Invasive Species Council of B.C. June 26 during an information session at the Finlayson Boat Launch in Sicamous centred on preventing the spread of invasive quagga and zebra mussels into B.C. lakes and rivers.
Mussels lower fish populations by out-competing lower levels of the food chain, leaving insufficient food for smaller fish to thrive. These mussels are also known to encrust the interior of pipes, dams and hydro plants, reducing the capacity to produce power by up to 50 per cent. The shells of zebra and quagga mussels are quite sharp and create a hazard on beaches, as well as creating a nasty odour when found in large numbers.
Thankfully, no live mussels have been found in B.C. rivers or lakes as of yet, though Laslett says the significant negative effects and costs associated with a mussel infestation have put prevention as a top priority.
She notes that in Ontario’s Great Lakes region they spend nearly $500 million per year combatting mussels. In contrast to this, the 2018 budget for the Invasive Mussels Defence Program in B.C. was just $3.75 million and was sourced largely from partners such as B.C. Hydro and Fortis B.C..
Lakes in the Shuswap and Okanagan region apparently have an ideal PH value for these mussels to thrive, making an infestation within them especially difficult to deal with.
Sue Davies, aquatic invasives co-ordinator with CSISS, says “keeping the lakes and rivers pristine is in all our interests… we also want as many people to know about this issue as possible. More knowledgeable local people means less chance of a mussel-fouled boat accidentally being launched into a lake,” she said.
The main preventive measure taken against the spread of these mussels is active screening and inspection of boats coming into B.C. from other provinces or the U.S..
To this end, the Invasive Species Council of B.C. (ISCBC) encourages boaters to clean, drain and dry their boat after every use, especially before returning from out-of-province trips.
Zebra and quagga mussels tend to be transported either in standing water trapped on a boat or by clinging to the side of a boat, even growing in tiny crevices and inside the motors of powered boats. Boaters are required to ensure they leave no standing water in their boat, clean the exterior thoroughly using hot, pressurized water and completely dry the boat before transport.
Failure to do so can result in a 30-day quarantine of the boat and fines up to a maximum of $500,000 for intentionally causing the spread of invasive mussels.
In 2018 the Invasive Mussel Defence Program has stopped 11 boats carrying mussels, most destined for the Lower Mainland with others coming to the Okanagan. They work closely with the Canadian Border Services Agency to inspect boats crossing the Canadian border and reportedly have outright refused entry to boats suspected of harbouring mussels.
North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold spoke at the invasive mussels workshop, saying it is a priority issue and that he is rallying Ottawa for more funding for prevention measures.
“The biggest thing we can do is prevent them from coming in the first place,” Arnold says. “Water quality issues that would come out of an infestation are insurmountable.”
He notes that of all the funding provided to deal with invasive species by the federal government, 80 per cent goes to combatting just two species in Ontario’s Great Lakes region and Arnold hopes to argue for a more equitable share of that funding.