OP-ED: Time to show muscle on mussels

OP-ED: Time to show muscle on mussels

The nationwide cost of dealing with these invasions was last reported to be $7 billion a year.

Imagine a wildfire of national proportions creeping across Canada, permanently damaging ecosystems, communities and economies along its way.

Now, imagine the authorities tasked with protecting against this fire repeatedly promising to provide more resources to contain it before it expands into your backyard, but failing to fulfil those promises as the destructive fire creeps closer to your home. Finally, the authorities call a press conference and present you with a garden hose. Outrageous, right?

This is the scenario that continues to play out in the Trudeau government’s inadequate response to the threat of aquatic invasive species (AIS) invading British Columbia’s pristine waters. Since they were first discovered in North America in 1988, zebra mussels have steadily multiplied across the continent wreaking havoc on ecosystems, communities and economies. It’s no wonder zebra and quagga mussels (ZQM) are perhaps the most dreaded invasives in North America.

ZQM quickly reproduce and colonize, stripping plankton from water and allowing sunlight to penetrate it in a way that increases invasive vegetation and toxic algal blooms. They destroy spawning grounds and litter beaches with millions of razor-sharp shells. They colonize on private and public infrastructure, such as docks and water systems, requiring continuous, costly maintenance.

The nationwide cost of dealing with these invasions was last reported to be $7 billion a year. The estimated revenue that would be lost in the Okanagan alone, as a result of an invasion, has been pegged at over $40 million annually; the private and public costs of dealing with infestations would easily add millions to this figure.

The only proven means of eliminating an invasive mussel infestation is to drain a body of water, which is not a viable option. This means an introduction of invasive mussels to BC waters would be permanent. So, why isn’t Ottawa doing more to prevent an infestation of BC waters?

As the Official Opposition, Conservatives pressed the previous Fisheries minister on this very question last year until the Minster committed in October to increase federal resources for AIS prevention in BC this year. For the ensuing six months, we demanded details of this commitment in the House of Commons, at Fisheries Committee and in correspondence. Over time, it became apparent this issue was not a priority for the Minister, his Parliamentary Secretary (who represents Burnaby North-Seymour) or Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) officials.

Finally, we received a written response stating that federal resources budgeted for AIS prevention in BC and the Yukon this year amount to $80,000 – an increase of only $30,000 from the previous year. More recently, Liberal MP Steve Fuhr of Kelowna-Lake Country has announced an additional short-term four-year funding increase from Ottawa averaging a mere $125,000 per year.

Fuhr seems quite proud of this announcement but he should not be. Considering DFO has nearly $19 million earmarked to fight AIS this year, the $155,000 total increase for BC is nothing short of an insult.

In April, Conservatives presented the Minister of Fisheries with clearly defined actions that are essential to preventing an invasive mussel invasion in BC. We requested federal government support to strengthen boat inspections and treatments at our borders. We proposed a boat passport system so inspectors can review a record of what waters a boat has been used in. We recommended that the government’s own Pleasure Craft Operator licensing curriculum include a component on AIS prevention. We also asked that Transport Canada amend its regulations for aquatic aircraft to ensure AIS are not being spread by planes. Four months later and there has been no response to these reasonable and attainable actions.

Of the $10.1 million in ongoing funding, DFO has for AIS activities nationally, about 86% is given to fight invasive Asian carp and sea lamprey, in Ontario. While these are serious concerns worthy of attention, the threat ZQM poses to BC lakes is no less important or deserving of action. There is no doubt that the threat these mussels pose to BC waters remains serious, much like there is no doubt that robust, preventative measures can help stop AIS threats from exacting permanent ecologic and economic costs on our waters and communities.

Last month, BC MP Jonathan Wilkinson (North Vancouver) was appointed Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the third minister in three years. With this appointment, we joined many British Columbians, and even more Canadians, in hoping that this latest Trudeau Cabinet shuffle will render better results for all Canadians.

We have seen the permanent destruction that zebra mussels have inflicted on communities across North America and the Trudeau government owes British Columbians the support and resources in the fight against invasive species.

Time will tell if a fisheries minister from BC will be able to produce a fair share of resources for BC’s fight against AIS. What is certain is that the risk of an invasion increases with every day that the Trudeau government delays meaningful support for the fight to protect British Columbia’s waters.

Todd Doherty

MP for Cariboo-Prince George, Shadow Minister for Fisheries and Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard

Mel Arnold

MP for North Okanagan-Shuswap, Deputy Shadow Minister for Fisheries and Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard

Dan Albas

MP for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, Shadow Minister for Small Business