North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold has been an active proponent of aquatic and invasive species initiatives in his constituency’s lakes over the past decade.
While those initiatives have proven successful for reviving rainbow trout populations and salmon spawning habitat, Arnold has now turned his sights on better prevention strategies to stop zebra and quagga mussels from infiltrating the Okanagan and Shuswap lake systems.
To Arnold, the Conservative Party deputy critic of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, it is a simple matter of economics—investing money now in public education and public boat inspection strategies or face horrendous mitigation costs to deal with a mussel infestation that has no solution.
The MP appeared Tuesday before the Okanagan Basin Water Board to pledge his support to draw more attention and financial resources towards education, boat inspection and infestation response strategies.
“The best way going forward is to work collaboratively with all levels of government to raise the importance of this issue, and to direct the necessary resources towards it in a proactive rather than reactive way,” Arnold said.
To that end, Arnold is hosting a roundtable discussion in Vernon next week with invited stakeholders to discuss what can be done moving forward.
“I want to make sure we are spending money effectively and properly, and not just throwing good money after bad.
“But we’ve learned from experience the remediation costs are huge and we have the opportunity to better prevent those costs from happening here.”
The OBWB has been active in sounding alarms about the need to keep the mussels out of the Okanagan, and has been met with some frustration in securing funding commitments from Ottawa.
Arnold didn’t make them feel any better in relating that of the $60.9 million in the 2014-15 federal budget to deal with invasive species, 80 per cent of that was spent on projects in the Great Lakes to deal with two species.
That left 20 per cent for the rest of Canada.
It is estimated the mitigation costs in B.C. should the mussels take hold here would start at $200 million and escalate from there with no permanent solution at this point.
The MP also acknowledged that support for Shuswap area lake initiatives were assisted by the relevance to salmon, a federal fisheries priority, while that responsibility for other fish species tends to be downloaded on the provinces.
In March, then premier Christy Clark announced that $3 million would be added to the budget to keep invasive mussels out of B.C. waters, money allocated to pay for two new inspection stations, expanding the operating hours of the eight existing stations, doubling the number of inspectors and adding a mussel-sniffing trained canine.
Arnold said the fact the mussels have already infested eastern Canada waterways to Manitoba may also be downplaying the need for resources further west.
“Yes, that is possible. It may well be that mussels showing up in our lakes here is inevitable, but in that case we need to have a treatment plan in place to immediately take action if and when that happens,” Arnold said.
He cited the example of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, where it took six months for a response initiative to be launched after the mussels were detected. They added which potash to the lake. It didn’t get the desired results and the mussel contamination has taken hold.