WINNIPEG — While the province is fighting to protect Manitoba lakes from being further infested from zebra mussels, one community has taken the battle into its own hands.
The invasive species are becoming a growing concern in Manitoba and have already infested three bodies of water: Lake Winnipeg, the Red River and Cedar Lake.
But people near Gull Lake, a mere 10 km’s from Grand Beach, are doing everything they can to ensure they don’t end up there too.
The Gull Lake Management Board has invested in its own pressure washer and set up a decontamination area by the boat launch.
“We try to wash every boat that comes into the lake that’s not from this lake,” Gull Lake Management Board member David Cairns said. “We are stopping everybody at the beginning of the boat launch here, questioning them as to where it’s been and if it’s been in a zebra mussel infected lake we ask if they have been to a provincial roadside wash. If not we offer to wash it for them.”
The program has come at a $12,000 cost to the group so far. The province refused to help them with funding this year.
“We saw the need for it,” Cairns said. “We didn’t feel the steps were being taken to prevent it the best that (the province) could.”
When the unit is not staffed, the boat launch is locked. However, a sign is up with a phone number for which is manned by volunteers who will come out, inspect and wash the vessel before allowing the boat on the lake.
“We have a student here five days per week, in the morning and evening to let people on and off the lake,” Cairns said. “We have volunteers on call the rest of the time.”
Zebra mussels began to invade Lake Winnipeg in 2013 and have since been multiplying by the millions.
By the fall of 2015, boaters found them clinging to their motors and hulls.
By the next summer, beachgoers along Beaconia, Grand Beach and Gimli found them washed up on the shore.
But Gull Lake, only minutes away, has remained zebra mussel free and the community wants to keep it that way.
“We are doing the best that we can with what we have,” Cairns said.
The province set up six decontamination units for people to wash zebra mussels off their boats. However, those units aren’t always set up in the same spot and cannot possibly be at every lake in the province.
“It’s the law to stop,” Manitoba Conservation Aquatic Invasive Species expert Candace Parks said. “It comes down to compliance. That’s the bottom law. That’s the win-win for everyone.”
So far this season, the province has inspected 3,252 watercrafts this summers and decontaminated 380 boats.
Three boats were found to be contaminated with zebra mussels.
Boaters can be fined, at minimum, $252 per specimen, for for every mussel found on their boat. The maximum fine is $100,000.
However, not a single fine has ever been handed out by a conservation officer. Instead, 27 warnings have been issued.
“We feel the punitive approach is not the approach this government wants to take,” Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox said. “We want to raise awareness and educate people on the importance of stopping the spread.”