Officer at Osoyoos border averts importation of quagga mussels

By on March 20, 2014
Quagga mussel. (Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey)

Quagga mussel. (Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey)

A potential infestation of the Okanagan lakes with quagga mussels was averted recently thanks to an alert customs officer at the Osoyoos border crossing.

The officer found mussels encrusted on a large pleasure-craft boat crossing into Canada the evening of March 12 and alerted the provincial Conservation Officer Service.

Barb Leslie, regional inspector in charge of the Conservation Officer Service for the Okanagan region confirms that the mussels were subsequently found to be dead and were in fact quagga mussels.

She cautions, however, that there are many areas on boats where larvae could still be living, so there is still a concern even if mussels appear to be dead.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has no authority under federal law to refuse entry to infected boats, but in this case the commercial transporter was cooperative.

Conservation officers were able to bring in a decontamination unit the following day to decontaminate the boat.

Proposed regulations under the federal Fisheries Act that would prohibit the importation of invasive species are mired in the bureaucracy of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). Stakeholder consultations on the new regulations concluded in April 2013.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) has been urging the federal government to move forward with the regulations, pointing out that they will allow CBSA officers at the border to stop and inspect watercraft and prohibit the entry of contaminated vessels.

The cost of an infestation by zebra or quagga mussels to the Okanagan is estimated at about $40 million a year just to manage. There is no way to eradicate the mussels once they get into the lakes, and they destroy infrastructure and beaches by encrusting objects in the water with their sharp shells. They also damage water quality.

The B.C. government has enacted legislation that makes it illegal to transport live or dead mussels in the province, however the province has not yet committed funds toward inspection stations like those on highways in U.S. states such as Idaho.

Zebra and quagga mussels were originally brought to North America from Eastern Europe through ship ballast, and they have been spread throughout much of North America by pleasure craft being transported between lakes.

Major waterways throughout the east of North America have been infested and in recent years the mussels have made inroads into lakes in the Southwestern United States. In Canada, the mussels have now spread as far west as Manitoba.

The OBWB has information about the mussels and how to decontaminate boats on its website at www.DontMoveAMussel.ca.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

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