Local group warns about the dangers of invasive mussels

East Kootenay Invasive Plant Council warns public about dangers of invasive aquatic life getting into local waterways.

The East Kootenay Invasive Plant Council (EKIPC) wants to warn people about the dangers of transporting invasive aquatic life into East Kootenay waterways. Zebra and quagga mussels can be detrimental to a local area, as they can colonize on multiple types of surfaces. Boats, docks, dams, and beaches can all be populated with the mussels, which have been known to clog water treatment facilities and dams.

Todd Larsen is the program manager for the EKIPC and says that none have been found in the area yet, but there is a push to keep them out of B.C.

“In Canada, the closest they are is in Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. And then in the US, they are in California, Arizona and New Mexico,” said Larsen. “We are fortunate that there are other states and provinces between us that are also looking for them from being introduced. But B.C. is now stepping up with provincial inspection stations with regional committees that are raising awareness and changing behaviours so people aren’t spreading mussels as well as aquatic plants from lake to lake.”

The invasive mussels are transported from lake to lake by sticking to the bottom of boats, which has huge environmental and economic impacts for invaded areas.

“Just because they reproduce so rapidly – the same individual will produce millions of eggs – they will colonize anywhere that they can,” said Larsen. “They were introduced into the Great Lakes in the late 80s, and they’re quite small, but they will attach to any hard substance – rocks or docks, underside of boats that are at a dock for a while. They have a foot that attaches to the substance and they’re filter feeders so they’re gathering plankton out of the water.” Larsen says that the United States government has spent millions trying to protect its dams and infrastructure from the mussels.

New legislation was introduced, prohibiting the transport or possession of live or dead mussels. “This spring there is federal legislation under the fisheries act, that, depending on which jurisdiction you’re in, it’s also illegal to have muscles in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan with restrictions on allowing them to spread,” said Larsen. There is also cooperation with the US to stop the spread of the mussels, with mandatory checks at many border crossings to ensure that any boat crossing has been inspected for mussels.

“There is a bit of a flow chart that the inspectors look at. If you’re boat has been in water considered a dirty jurisdiction in the last 30 days, that’s a flag. If there is still wet or standing water, then that’s a flag as well,” said Larsen. The mantra that the EKIPC promotes is clean, drain and dry – clean off the boat, drain all the water and dry it off properly.

“It’s basically a big prevention thing that we are working on right now. It is possible for them to slip through the cracks of course, so if anyone is aware of them, just call report a poacher line,” said Larsen. More information on the mussels and other invasive plants and species can be found at the EKIPC website at www.ekipc.com.