New boat plug law enacted to prevent spread of invasive species

Inspection stations open to check boats
Rainbow trout infected with whirling disease, seen here, which damages the backbone of the fish causing them to swim in a “whirling” pattern. Photo: Sascha Hallett,

The province’s lakes and rivers, including Christina Lake, are getting more protection from invasive species and diseases with the announcement of a new boating law.

As of May 17, boaters are required to pull the drain plug on their boats to prevent spreading invasive species.

The province’s Office of the chief veterinarian issued the order to prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species and diseases, most notably zebra mussels, quagga mussels and whirling disease, a news release stated. Before transporting a boat or other watercraft, owners/operators must remove the drain plug and drain all water on dry land, including all internal compartments, such as ballasts, bilges and live wells.

The release added as well as pulling the drain plug, boat operators, anglers and water enthusiasts should clean, drain and dry all watercraft, trailers and equipment (lifejackets, paddles, coolers, etc.) on dry land, away from storm water drains, ditches and waterways. All mud, sand and plant materials should be removed from boats before leaving the shore. Operators should also allow a minimum of 24 hours drying time for watercraft and/or equipment before entering new waters.

Invasive mussel monitoring is something the Christina Lake Stewardship Society has been undertaking for several years.

In previous comments, Lyra Tuck, program coordinator for the society explained Zebra and Quagga mussels are small bivalve mollusks that grow in clusters, she explained. Zebra mussels are native to the Black Sea, arriving in the ballasts and hulls of international ships. They grow to about the size of a human fingernail and have been steadily spreading across Canada and The United States since they were first detected in the 1980s.

Quagga mussels are a more recent introduction. Showing up in the late 2010’s.

Once they are established, they clear the water of natural murkiness, causing light to penetrate deeper, inciting more algae blooms and killing plantlife. They have virtually no predators in North America because they are highly toxic as they absorb bacteria and toxins from the water. They also are a hazard to humans because they can clog up water pipes and their discarded shells are very sharp and can slice flesh if someone steps on them.

The society does monitoring on the lake every second Friday around Texas Creek by taking samples to look for veligers (larvae) sampling. It gathers samples in the lake by placing tubes in the water to see if any larvae have taken up residence. Samples are sent to a lab in Vancouver. The Society receives funding from the province to collect samples and host public education sessions.

So far they haven’t been detected in lakes or rivers in B.C. or American states neighbouring it, Tuck said, but the waters of Christina Lake are monitored and the province and federal enforcement inspect watercraft for signs of the mussels or their larvae.

As well, with the discovery of whirling disease in Yoho National Park last December, protecting the lake and waterways around it has taken greater urgency province-wide. That disease is caused by parasitic spores that infect young fish, causing neurological damage that makes the fish swim in a whirling pattern, as well as skeletal damage. It’s fatal in more than 90 per cent of cases, according to a Government of Canada website.

Inspection stations are open from April until October to prevent zebra and quagga mussels from hitching a ride on boats or any water equipment and entering B.C. waterways. Inspectors will also be checking watercraft for compliance with the chief veterinarian’s pull the plug order.

“This order is part of our ongoing actions to contain and prevent further spread of whirling disease and keep invasive mussels out of B.C. waterways,” stated Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship in the release.

About the Author: Karen McKinley

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