Interior MPs call on Ottawa to take invasive mussel threat seriously

MPs demand mussel action

Southern Interior Conservative MPs are calling on the federal government to take immediate action to protect B.C. waterways from invasive mussels.

The five MPs include associate shadow minister for fisheries Mel Arnold of North Okanagan-Shuswap, former chair of the Okanagan Basin Water Board, Kelowna-Lake Country's Tracy Gray, Dan Albas, of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo's Frank Caputo, and Kootenay-Columbia's Rob Morrison.

The MPs say "inconsistent and inequitable funding and lack of border inspections ... leaves freshwaters across B.C. like lakes in the Okanagan, Kootenay and Thompson regions vulnerable to the scourge of aquatic invasive species.

"These invasive species have devastated water bodies on both sides of the border, posing a significant threat to ecosystems, water infrastructure, and the tourism industry."

Gray says proactive measures are needed to protect Okanagan Lake.

"We must be proactive, not reactive if we want to protect our Okanagan Lake, our water infrastructure, and tourism industry. One infection puts them all at risk," said Gray.

Arnold, a former BC Wildlife Federation president, said the potential consequences are dire, "with no known method of eradication, the impact on salmon and other species could be devastating and not worth the risk of the current inequitable distribution of resources."

Albas, meanwhile, notes the lack of boat inspections at the Canada-U.S. border and shared a firsthand report of a recreational boater who crossed the border six times without being inspected.

"This situation is unacceptable, and we are demanding the federal government inspect every recreational boater crossing the Canada-U.S. border for aquatic invasive species across Western Canada."

In a letter to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Diane Lebouthillier and Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc, the MPs express "grave concern" over the persistent threat to local economies and communities posed by zebra and quagga mussels.

"Actions must be taken now," the MPs say.

Arnold conveyed the concerns to Lebouthillier in person at the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on Oct. 26, noting threats moving closer to B.C. with the discovery in September of invasive mussels in the Snake River near Twin Falls, Idaho.

The Tories note that in 2019, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development released an audit report that concluded the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Canada Border Services Agency "had not taken the steps required to prevent AIS from becoming established in Canada's waters despite commitments to do so over the years."

At the time, DFO was allocating 2% of federal funding for AIS activities to the Pacific Region and by 2021-22 this had dropped to just 1.75%.

The cuts led to inspection stations in B.C. being by 50% and inspector numbers falling by 33%, which in turn resulted in 68% fewer watercraft inspected.

The threat "cannot be overstated," the MPs say.

"If your government is serious about protecting aquatic habitats for fish, especially Pacific salmon, and serious about conserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, then you must act now."

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