Keeping Shuswap Lake free of invasive mussels
The Shuswap is at risk of being invaded by aquatic invasive mussels. It sounds like a science fiction flick, doesn’t it? It’s not – it’s a very real threat, and we all need to do our part to prevent it. Whether you’re a resident or a visitor to the Shuswap, whether you’re a boater, paddler, or fisher – you need to be part of the prevention!
What are Zebra and Quagga Mussels?
Zebra and quagga mussels don’t belong in the Shuswap, in BC, or even in Canada. They were unintentionally brought to North America in the 1970’s on ships coming from Europe, where the mussels originate. Since then, they have established in many lakes and rivers in Eastern and central North America, and as far west as California.
The good news is the mussels are not known to be present in Shuswap Lake, or anywhere in BC. Let’s keep it that way!
What’s the big deal?
Zebra and quagga mussels would create enormous problems for the Shuswap because they cling to, colonize and completely encrust any and all hard surfaces under water: boats, pilings, water supply and irrigation systems, docks — you name it. Additionally, they litter beaches with their small razor-sharp shells, they produce foul odours, and they pollute water quality, putting the lake ecosystem and drinking water at risk. The cost to property owners, tax-payers and rate-payers for dealing with these impacts in BC is conservatively estimated to be $43M per year.
This boat spends its time in mussel-infested waters. Consequently, adult mussels have colonized on the hull. Photo: Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society
What do boaters and fishers have to do with it?
One of the most common ways that zebra and quagga mussels move from one waterbody to another is on watercraft and fishing gear, which can become contaminated with mussels if they’ve been used in a lake or river where the mussels are present.
Adult mussels can attach themselves directly, and juvenile mussels can float freely in trapped water. There are many places they could be: the bilge, ballast, bait bucket, anchor, hull, trailer, prop, engine coolant system – and that’s just for boats. They could also be “hiding” on kayaks, canoes, stand up paddleboards, waders or water toys. They’re not easy to spot – adult mussels are the size of your thumbnail, and juveniles are smaller than a grain of sand.
Adult zebra/quagga mussels aren’t much bigger than your thumbnail. Photo: Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society
What you need to do
It’s critically important that everyone eliminates the chance that adult or juvenile mussels are being moved from one body of water to another. Anyone moving a watercraft of any kind into British Columbia is required to stop at watercraft inspection stations.
Staff will inspect and decontaminate your watercraft, free of charge. Stopping is mandatory, and failing to stop could cost a traveller a hefty fine.
Travellers with watercraft of any kind are required to stop at watercraft inspection stations. Photo: East Kootenay News
Within BC, you must clean, drain and dry watercraft and gear before moving to another lake or river. This helps prevent the transmission of other invasive species, such as Eurasian water milfoil and whirling disease.
There’s more. If the mussels become established in the Shuswap – and it would only take one contaminated watercraft to enable that – they are virtually impossible to get rid of. If they’re introduced to the Shuswap, they’d be here to stay. And, worse yet, they reproduce at alarmingly high rates. A few mussels could become millions in a year.
Prevention is key. Don’t move a mussel! Clean, drain and dry your watercraft and gear, and stop at watercraft inspection stations.