Canadians have been encouraged to travel domestically during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce to voice concerns about the spread of invasive aquatic species.
The chamber has written to both the federal minister of fisheries and oceans and the federal minister of public safety about invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels and their potential impact on the Okanagan Valley.
“The spread of aquatic invasive mussels poses a significant threat to the Okanagan’s ecosystem, lifestyle and economy, and the potential for an infestation is very real as Canadians are encouraged to travel and explore this great nation during the pandemic,” chamber president Krystin Kempton said.
The chamber urged the government to emphasize the need for visitors to clean, drain and dry their watercraft and equipment before entering B.C. in all government campaigns promoting travel among Canadians.
The chamber also highlighted the need to to strengthen the Pleasure Craft Operator Card course by providing participants with information about AIS inspection stations and the need to drain water from equipment and keep drain plugs out during transport.
“U.S. citizens entering B.C. to reach Alaska could also put our lakes at risk, particularly given the recent increase in watercraft arriving in Montana infested with zebra and quagga mussels,” Kempton said.
“We urge the government to provide the Canadian Border Services Agency with the necessary resources to prevent the infestation of Canadian waters by watercraft and equipment crossing our border.”
Tourism provides employment for thousands of Okanagan residents. The Okanagan Basin Water Board estimates the annual loss to tourism revenue from invasive mussels could range from $12 to $22 million.
The chamber warns the invasive species could also tank real estate values by $10 million per year due to beaches covered by razor-sharp shells. The chamber also points to the higher taxes that could the result of municipalities having to make expensive efforts to remove mussels from water utility infrastructure.