The B.C. Conservation Officer Service has two detection dogs, Kilo and Major, who primarily search for invasive mussels at the inspection stations. Pictured is K9 Major, who’s been on the job since early December of 2018. (B.C. Conservation Officer Service photo)

Invasive Mussel Defence program launches in B.C.

Boat inspection stations are now open at various locations throughout the province to prevent harmful zebra and quagga mussels from hitching a boat ride and entering B.C. waterways. Unlike B.C.’s native mussels, zebra and quagga mussels attach to hard surfaces, allowing them to move between waterbodies by boats and equipment. The mussels multiply rapidly and are extremely difficult to eradicate once they become established in an area.

The economic impact of invasive mussels to hydropower, agricultural irrigation, municipal water supplies and recreational boating could cost the province an estimated $43 million per year if introduced into B.C. This does not include additional impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries.

In 2019, approximately 892 water samples were collected from 79 lakes across the province. All samples have come back negative for invasive mussels.

From now until late October, inspectors with the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (COS) will be checking boats for aquatic invasive species, while at the same time educating people about the importance of ‘Clean, Drain and Dry’ – a preventative step that all boaters should be practicing when moving between lakes in the province.

While most provincial boat launches are now open, people are reminded that now is not the time for non-essential travel and to stay close to home. Due to current travel restrictions, the risk for invasive mussels entering B.C. is expected to be lower.

“We recognize people are eager to get outside and many are ready to head to their favourite lake, but we need to avoid non-essential travel during these unprecedented times and stay close to home,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “We are fortunate there have been no reports of quagga and zebra mussels so far in B.C., and we need to make sure it stays that way by ensuring the necessary resources are in place to protect our economy, our infrastructure and our sensitive ecosystems.”

Piloted in 2015, the Invasive Mussel Defence program consists of three main components: watercraft inspections, lake monitoring, and public outreach and education. The COS enforces the program and has two detection dogs, Kilo and Major, who primarily search for invasive mussels at the inspection stations.

Last year, more than 52,000 inspections were conducted that resulted in 22 mussel-fouled boats coming from Ontario, Michigan, Utah and North Carolina and were destined for the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Kootenays, Thompson-Nicola and Skeena regions. The program received advanced notification of 17 of the 22 mussel-fouled boats either from another jurisdiction or by Canada Border Services agents.

“While we are all protecting ourselves during this unusual time, each of us can take simple actions to protect our waters from invasive species,” said Dave Bennett, chair of the Invasive Species Council of BC. “Whether you are a paddler, boater or a fisher, let’s continue to work together and make sure all of our equipment and vehicles are clean, drained and dry before going to a new water body.”

The COS reminds people that it is mandatory for anyone transporting a watercraft (sailboats, motorboats, car toppers, kayaks, canoes and paddle boats) in B.C. to stop at an open inspection station. Failing to stop can result in a $345 fine. Last year, 116 violation tickets were issued to motorists failing to stop at inspection stations.

People are also encouraged to report watercraft suspected of transporting invasive mussels to the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line at 1 877 952-7277.

To determine if a boat is high risk and should be decontaminated, email: COS.Aquatic.Invasive.Species@gov.bc.ca

For more information about the Invasive Mussel Defence Program, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/invasive-mussels/invasive-mussel-defence-program

For more information about the Clean, Drain, Dry program, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/invasive-mussels/what-can-you-do

Source: Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy

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