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Okanagan MPs push for more muscle in mussel protection

Potential spread of invasive aquatic species such as zebra and quagga mussels prompt letter
Invasive mussels have encrusted this boat hull. (Photo courtesy of Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society)

North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold is among five Conservative MPs calling on the federal government to better protect against the threat of invasive aquatic species.

In a letter to Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier and Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Arnold, Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola MP Dan Albas, Kelowna-Lake Country MP Tracy Gray, Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison and Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Frank Caputo express their “grave concern” regarding the threat of invasive species, particularly zebra and quagga mussels.

The mussels recently sparked a debate among Vernon council members about whether to support the Okanagan Basin Water Board’s call for a temporary ban on out-of-province boats until better safeguards can be put in place, as boats are a major way in which the mussels can spread to different water bodies. The call for a boat moratorium came after the mussels were found in Idaho, which was too close for comfort for the Water Board.

When the mussels proliferate, they wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems and underwater infrastructure. They also litter beaches with their razor-sharp shells, making beaches undesirable as tourist destinations.

The letter comes after Arnold conveyed the threat posed by the mussels to Lebouthillier on Oct. 26. The MPs say action must be taken now to prevent “permanent harm” and costs to local economies and communities.

“We have repeatedly pressed your government for federal resources dedicated to AIS (aquatic invasive species) prevention to be allocated equitably across Canada because doing so would increase protection for B.C.’s water as the threats of AIS increase,” the letter reads.

According to the letter, in 2019 the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) released an audit report that concluded that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Canadian Border Services Agency had not taken the required steps to prevent aquatic invasive species from entering Canadian waters “despite commitments to do so over the years.” The commissioner also found that the Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations were not adequately enforced in part because the fisheries department and the Border Services Agency failed to equip and train fishery and border service officers with the means to prevent aquatic invasive species from entering Canada.

The MPs say the DFO was allocating two per cent of federal funding for aquatic invasive species management in 2019, but that dropped to 1.75 per cent by 2021-22.

“This inequitable distribution leaves the large geographic area and ecologies and economies in B.C. and the Pacific Region at risk,” the letter states.

The MPs point to B.C.’s Invasive Mussel Defense Program, saying because of funding cuts since 2019, the program has been “severely” handicapped and the number of boat inspection stations has declined by 50 per cent, and inspectors working at the stations have dropped 33 per cent.

The MPs also point to a 68 per cent reduction in the number of boats inspected, a 90 per cent reduction in identifications of high-risk watercraft, and a 54 per cent reduction in the number of mussel-infested boats prevented from entering the province from 2019 to 2023.

“These reductions occurred during a period when the number of visitors to B.C., including those with watercraft, increased,” the letter states.

The MPs call for the government to act now and put more federal resources towards aquatic invasive species prevention in B.C., and to require all recreational boaters entering Canada from the U.S. at ports from Saskatchewan to B.C. to have their boats inspected.

READ MORE: Vernon debates banning out-of-province boats

READ MORE: Shuswap groups call for more mussel in boat inspections

Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started at the Morning Star as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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