Efforts continue to stop spread of mussels in lakes, rivers

New mussels task force formed

Chris Clegg
For the Lakeside Leader

A group dedicated to looking after the Lesser Slave Lake watershed is pleased with efforts the Government of Alberta is taking to protect the precious resource.

The government announced May 15 a new task force to stop invasive mussels (zebra and quagga) from entering Alberta.

“It is great to see more inspection stations in 2024, along with more dedicated inspectors,” says council executive director Meghan Payne.

What is an invasive species? It is simply defined as a non-native plant and/or animal to Alberta that damages the environment and/or economy or human health. Zebra and quagga mussels reproduce at a furious rate, Payne said at the May meeting, and overtake a habitat causing loss of water quality and death to local plants and fish that call the lakes and rivers their home.

It was estimated in 2019 the mussels cost the Manitoba economy $75 million each year, so it’s vital to continue efforts to keep them out of Alberta.

The Alberta government says Alberta is currently free of mussels and wants to keep it that way.

“More and more detections are being reported across Canada and the United States, increasing the threat to Alberta,” reads the news release.

“With growing concerns that invasive mussels could arrive here in our province, Alberta is launching the first Aquatic Invasive Special Task Force to identify ways to improve inspection, detection and education so that these dangerous species don’t get established here.”

The government has already increased the number of inspection stations and called for increased federal government action to stop the mussels at the border.

“Lesser Slave Lake sees visitors from all over Canada and the USA, and our lake is certainly at risk to the introductions of invasives like zebra and quagga mussels,” says Payne.

The Watershed Council has and continues to do their part to stop the spread.

“Locally, the LSWC strives to raise awareness about aquatic invasive species through the distribution of resources like the provincial ‘clean, drain, dry your gear’ and ‘don’t let it loose’ campaign materials, along with invasive species fact sheets and our Lesser Slave Lake stewardship handbooks,” says Payne.

She adds her group hosts a spring invasive species workshop in the watershed every other year, and they are always well attended by staff from municipalities, industry, local campgrounds, agricultural producers, lakefront property owners and members of the public who want to learn more.

“You can also find our staff at local boat launches and beaches in the summer promoting lake stewardship and handing out resources to recreationalists,” says Payne.

Beginning in 2022, the Watershed Council collaborated with Environment and Protected Areas (EPA) in Aberta to collect samples in July and August at six marinas on Lesser Slave Lake, and two boat launches at Fawcett Lake.

The samples were shipped to EPA for analysis, looking for the larval form of zebra and quagga mussels, called veligers, as well as Spiny Water Flea. The good news is there were no detections in samples from 2022 or 2023.

However, officials are not letting their guard down to the threat. In addition to the Alberta government and Watershed Council, Big Lakes County has an invasive species policy and procedure.

The Alberta government has raised the alarm.

“Boating season hasn’t even started and we’ve already intercepted two boats carrying invasive mussels into Alberta this year,” said Minister of Environment and Protected Areas Rebecca Schultz May 15.

“We are taking decisive action by launching this new task force to identify ways to improve protection programs across the province.”

Mussels can be carried across the border by hitching a ride on boats. It is critical that owners wash boats clean of the mussels before entering the province.

The new task force will be led by Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter. He is tasked with working with partners to discuss critical topics, such as how to improve border protection, and find ways to strengthen rules and regulations. The task force will also decide if stronger penalties, restrictions, additional inspections or other actions are needed.

Other task force members include representation from the Alberta Wildlife Federation, Alberta Invasive Species Council, Alberta Lake Management Society, Alberta Irrigation District, Alberta Water Council and more.

Payne is pleased with the selection of task force members.

“The task force is made up of representatives with diverse backgrounds and expertise, all of which will contribute to well-rounded advice to our government,” she says.

Photos of the quagga mussel and zebra mussel, which authorities are desperately trying to keep out of Alberta.
Mussels will attach themselves to almost any submerged item and cause millions of dollars in damages.

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