A Concern Of Invasive Zebra & Quagga Mussels for BC Waters

Spring is upon us. For many of us, that means our attention turns to the lakes and rivers, and a plethora of water-based activities: boating, canoeing, fishing, stand-up paddle boarding.

For invasive species and watershed organizations, it means it’s time to turn up the heat on invasive species education and prevention efforts. The increased movement of boats and other types of watercraft into and around the Province means that there’s an increased risk of an accidental introduction of zebra and quagga mussels – a small freshwater mussel native to Europe that has tremendous destructive potential. The Shuswap Watershed Council (SWC) and the Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society (CSISS) are working together to try to prevent just that from happening.

“Zebra and quagga mussels would create enormous problems in BC waters because they cling to, colonize, and encrust any hard surface under water: boats, dock pilings, water supply and irrigation systems – anything. Once they’ve established, it’s difficult to get rid of them and they just keep coming back,” says Robyn Hooper, Executive Director of the CSISS.

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 lake and river ecosystems at risk,” adds Erin Vieira, program manager for the SWC.

“The primary way the mussels would get to BC waters 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,” says Vieira. “We can keep them out, as long as we follow a couple preventative measures,” adds Vieira.

Hooper says the mussels aren’t known to be established anywhere in BC, but they do occur in lakes in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and several states. “That means that anyone travelling into BC with a watercraft is considered higher risk, and they need to stop at a watercraft inspection station as they pass by. Government staff will inspect and decontaminate your watercraft, if needed, free of charge,” says Hooper. “Anyone moving a boat within BC should be cleaning, draining, and drying their boat every time they move from one waterbody to another. This is a really good practice to avoid moving a variety of invasive species, but not as rigorous as a mussel decontamination,” adds Hooper, “and besides, is if good for your boat!”

In 2017, the watercraft inspection program, which is run by the BC Government, intercepted 24 watercraft that were contaminated with invasive mussels.  “This seems like a small number, but it is scary. It could take just one contaminated watercraft to establish zebra and quagga mussels in BC waters,” says Vieira.

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 BC, visit the provincial website: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/invasive-mussels/bringing-your-boat-to-bc.

For more information on zebra and quagga mussels, visit CSISS’ website at:  www.columbiashuswapinvasives.org/zebra-mussels/