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Vernon debates banning out-of-province boats

Invasive mussel outbreak in Idaho leaves local lakes at risk

The threat of invasive mussel infestation is creeping closer and extreme measures are being urged.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) is calling for a moratorium on boats outside of B.C. entering the province.

The potential ban follows the discovery of quagga mussel larvae in an Idaho river in the U.S.

It’s too close for comfort for OBWB, which presented to Vernon council Monday, Oct. 23 on the devastating impacts of zebra and quagga mussels.

“This the closest, most direct threat we’ve ever seen, yet the provincial commitment gets smaller, federal as well,” said Coun. Brian Guy

But some are worried that a moratorium would be “a knife to small business,” in what is very much a tourism area.

“A moratorium would surely decimate our tourism and they are just recovering out of COVID,” said Coun. Kari Gares, who is concerned a summer ban could evolve into years.

With a family cabin at Lake Winnipeg, where fishing is down and beaches are being littered with the razor-sharp shells since infestation, Coun. Brian Quiring understands the impacts of mussels.

But he’d like to see other options explored.

“With the short term rental regulation and a moratorium we might as well shut down the highway,” said Quiring.

Without it, OBWB says a mussel infestation in the Okanagan would cost $12.6 million a year, not to mention the ecosystem impact.

“We cannot risk that,” said Guy.

James Littley, OBWB deputy administrator, said it is short term pain for a year or two, as it could be years before Idaho knows if its treatment works to eliminate the mussels.

The economic loss due to infestation is between $64-129 million (including tourism and property value loss, infrastructure improvement, boat and marina maintenance) not including all the fish it kills.

“They will fundamentally alter our aquatic eco systems,” said Littley, adding they can grow into densities of 700,000 per square metre.

Mussels were discovered on a boat at a Cook Road boat launch in Kelowna in 2015 after B.C. was alerted by an Alberta inspection centre.

“Since 2015 the province has intercepted more than 115 mussel infested boats,” said Littley.

They can be as small as a grain of sand, and grow to the size of a thumbnail.

While these mussels were destroyed, B.C. currently has no plans on what to do if mussels are detected in local waters.

Littley is also disappointed to report that the B.C. inspection budget and staffing have been cut over the years: from $4 million in 2019 with 64 inspectors to $2.5 million now with half the number of inspectors.

“Inspection stations in B.C. are inadequate for what we’re facing,” he said, adding Canadian Border Service Agency needs to play a larger role as well.

The mussels found in Snake River in Idaho put Columbia River at risk. Therefore OBWB is calling for a moratorium on out-of-province boats until the full status of the infestation of the Columbia Basin in assessed.

A working group is being started with people from tourism and boating industries.

It is looking for support from councils in a call to action to place pressure on provincial and federal governments.

Vernon council is passing the request in principle and will bring the discussion back to council with more information at its next meeting.

A time lapse map from the United States Geological Survey’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species online resource shows the spread of information.

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Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

Vernon has always been my home, and I've been working at The Morning Star since 2004.
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