By Liz Bruckner
If you’re like most Albertans, chances are mussels don’t rank high on your list of imminent conservational dangers to fret about. But if you ask Michael Short, host of Let’s Go Outdoors, they should.
In fact, he says, the concern from environmentalists over zebra and quagga mussels invading local waterways over the last few years has been so great that Bill 13, the Fisheries (Alberta) Amendment Act, in which all watercrafts entering the province will receive a mandatory inspection, has been passed.
“The intent of this law is to ensure that these mussels don’t infest our waterways as they have in many other provinces, including Ontario and Manitoba, as well as many U.S. states,” says Short. “Based on the fact that mussels were discovered on several boats coming into our province last year during a pilot search program, the timing is right.”
“What most people don’t realize is that these mussels are an aggressive, invasive species, and once they’re transplanted into lakes and rivers, they have the potential to wreak havoc on the environment.”
In addition to being able to reproduce at alarming rates – one female zebra mussel can produce upwards of one million eggs per year – both mussel types negatively affect the biodiversity of waterways, he says. “Because they feed on plankton and remove nutrients from lakes and river systems, over time they fundamentally alter the chemistry of waterways and disrupt the entire food chain; small fish will die because of this deficit, and eventually large fish are impacted too.” What’s more, Short says they also attach themselves to native mussels and crayfish, making it hard for them to survive, while also clogging waterways, obstructing water-intake pipes necessary for infrastructure, and negatively impacting the overall ecosystem.
Since these mollusks are next to impossible to eradicate once in a waterway – they can attach themselves to almost any hard surface, including watercraft hulls, motors or any part of a vehicle immersed in water or damp areas, and live comfortably for up to 30 days – its makes prevention paramount.
“The province has estimated that managing an infestation of these mussels could run around $75 million per year,” says Short, adding that much of the anticipated costs lie in beach clean-up, where sharp, decaying shells and clogged water intake pipes can lead to costly repairs.
“Obviously the smartest option is for Albertans to monitor their watercrafts and do all we can to prevent this from becoming a massive problem.”
Keep in mind…
- Since it takes just one infected boat to infest an entire waterway, it’s incredibly important that every boater does all he/she can to ensure their watercraft is clean. Short says the best way to avoid issues is to properly clean your boat and equipment, and dispose of any bait or water after leaving a waterway.
- Not sure you’d spot the dime-sized mollusks if you had to? The province will offer a trained team of canines to sniff out mussels, which will be located within areas of the province that border much-afflicted areas of the southern U.S.
- Inspections are mandatory for all watercrafts – including non-motorized vessels.
- A 24/7 aquatic invasive species hotline (1-855-336-BOAT) is available for anyone to call with questions, reports of invasive species, or to set up a boat inspection.