SASKATOON – The zebra mussel may not be in Saskatchewan, but that hasn’t stopped wildlife officials from sounding the alarm over the invasive species.
A native of Eastern Europe, the zebra mussels were first discovered in the Great Lakes in 1988. The thought is they were introduced to the lakes in the ballast of ocean ships using the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The mussels have now spread throughout eastern Canada and to the Colorado River system in the United States.
The issue now is the threat to Saskatchewan waters.
“Yes, there’s a threat here, and the threat seems to be exponentially increasing as we go,” said Peter Kingsmill with the Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve.
Kingsmill said the species, along with the related quagga mussels, are now in the Red River system and have been discovered in Lake Winnipeg.
The greatest danger to them entering the province lies with people bringing boats, motors, boat trailers and industrial equipment into Saskatchewan that have been used in infested waters.
It’s also an issue for Alberta, where seven infested boats were intercepted during mandatory boat inspections in the United States before they entered that province.
Kate Wilson with Alberta Environment told Global News they are actively monitoring their water systems for the mussels, which have yet to show up in the province.
The mussels are hardy, can live up to a month out of water and are tolerant of a wide range of water conditions and temperatures.
Kingsmill said there is a danger to infrastructure if the mussels are introduced into the province’s waterways.
“They love pipes – water intakes for cities, irrigation, whatever, they love to clog those pipes and they do.”
Another danger is damage to the ecosystem as there are no natural predators in Saskatchewan that would eat them in sufficient quantities.
“They are what we call filter feeders which means they scoop water through them, about a litre a day, take all the plankton out, which feeds in turn other things that we have that we value,” said Kingsmill.
Those include prey and game fish and Kinsgmill said native fish could starve as the mussels filter out plankton from the water.
Kingsmill said there are steps people can take to stop the mussels from spreading into Saskatchewan. That includes properly cleaning boats, motors, bait wells and related equipment when moving to a Saskatchewan waterway from an area that may have been infested.
Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve is also launching a public service campaign and is producing literature to hand out at boat dealerships and fishing equipment retailers.
This is a corrected version of this story, which previously stated mussels were already in some Alberta waters when in fact this is not the case.