Alberta continues to inspect boats for mussels

Province remains committed to keeping zebra and quagga mussels out of its waterways, where they can cause damage

Travel restrictions now in place due to the pandemic are likely to significantly reduce interprovincial and international traffic into Alberta but boat inspection stations are still expected to be active this summer at some border crossings.

The threat that zebra and quagga mussels could inadvertently be brought to provincial water bodies on watercraft remains because those species continue their spread in the United States, eastern Canada and Manitoba.

The mussels destroy native aquatic ecosystems and could potentially clog municipal water treatment infrastructure and irrigation systems. The latter would require huge expense for control because the mussels are highly prolific and approved control measures are limited.

Nicole Kimmel, aquatic invasive species specialist with Alberta Environment and Parks, said inspections of boats, canoes, kayaks and other watercraft remain mandatory when inspection stations are open. There is a $310 fine for bypassing an open inspection station and a $172 fine for failing to pull the bilge plug in craft while in transport.

Speaking to an Alberta Invasive Species Council webinar, Kimmel said 19 mussel-fouled boats were intercepted last year and the mussel-sniffing dogs remain part of the detection program.

Alberta is zebra and quagga-mussel free, so far as anyone knows, and the department wants to keep it that way.

Kimmel related an incident last year that illustrated the department’s response methods when signs of invasive mussels are found.

On June 23, 2019, British Columbia inspectors alerted her that they had intercepted people carrying two kayaks that had previously been in Lake Powell, Utah, where invasive mussels are a problem. After that, the kayaks were used in Lake Newell, a part of the Eastern Irrigation District near Brooks, Alta., and possibly in other water bodies.

The kayaks had been decontaminated in Utah but inspectors found mussel shells in the kayak compartments.

“Thankfully we have excellent relationships with our neighbours so as soon as they intercepted these kayaks, they were notifying us of this occurrence,” said Kimmel. “We agreed that this incident posed a fairly low risk to Lake Newell. However, as a precautionary measure, some action items were agreed upon.”

The department notified the irrigation district and the local provincial park and checked the shorelines around the lake’s boat launch using sniffer dogs. No sign of mussel contamination was found.

“This is how real invasive mussel scares happen in the province,” said Kimmel. “Those kayaks could have entered in any jurisdiction. It might not have been necessarily Alberta.”

Watercraft inspection stations don’t operate all day and night throughout the busy summer season, so it’s possible for watercraft to enter without inspection. If the craft are carrying the invasive species, either as immature mussel villagers in bilge or older molluscs clinging to surfaces and hiding in orifices, they could spread invasive species into the province..

“We prioritize our high peak summer hours and do the best we can with what we have, so there is still risk of some introduction but we try to mitigate that through education.”

Kimmel said the province has submitted an application to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency to register potash as a treatment against invasive mussels. Potash has been tested and proven effective in several experiments but registration is likely about 18 months away assuming the PMRA approves it.

If it does, potash will be available as a mussel control treatment anywhere in Canada.

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