Drivers carrying any type of water craft are required by law to stop in at Watercraft Inspection stations across the province to have their aquatic vessels checked for invasive species.
The provincial Invasive Mussel Defence Program aims to prevent the introduction of zebra and quagga mussels into B.C. by inspecting boats, monitoring lakes, educating the public, and coordinating actions with neighbouring jurisdictions.
“Three years ago, the watercraft inspections stations were set up to monitor watercraft coming into British Columbia from high-risk jurisdictions that have quagga and zebra mussels,” explained Conservation Officer Services staff sergeant major Joshua Lockwood. “It was decided that Golden would be a 24-hour inspection station due to the volume of traffic that travels the Trans-Canada Highway.”
There are 12 inspectors that work at the station in Golden on rotating shifts from April 1 to November, which is when most of the boat traffic is travelling along the highway. Outside of those times, commercial watercraft haulers can call a hotline to be inspected.
Zebra and quagga mussels are common along the eastern seaboard and parts of the U.S., Lockwood said, and can be very difficult for an untrained eye to identify. The inspectors at the stations are trained to visually check for mussels, and use the assistance of canines when they are there.
“I have a full service police canine. Instead of sniffing out bombs, he sniffs out mussels,” Lockwood said.
If vehicles carrying watercraft don’t stop at the inspection station, the inspectors call the Report All Poachers and Polluters line, and the conservation officers look for the vehicle. The fine for skipping the inspection station is $345.
“That includes kayaks, paddle boards, canoes, Sea-Doos, not just the big watercraft. It’s all watercraft,” Lockwood said. “Unfortunately, there might be a few local people that will have to do it a couple of times back and forth, but there are no exemptions.”
The quagga and zebra mussels are similar to regular mussels. Once they enter a body of water, they begin to filter out the nutrients found there, which can result in clearer water, allowing underwater vegetation to flourish, and they have the ability to change entire ecosystems. The mussels have little threads on them, and can attach themselves to marine vessels.
“They are a siphoning mussel. You just pull them and they siphon all of the organisms out of the water,” Lockwood said.
The mussel babies are called villagers, and are microscopic in size.
“You can’t see them in the water. The pictures are deceiving, but the displays that they have at the check station show people they can be the size of the head of an eraser on a pencil up to the size of a dime,” Lockwood said. “As they die, they are washed to shore, and pretty soon your sand is replaced by mussel shells. It’s like walking on barnacles.”
Currently, there are no reported cases of the zebra or quagga mussels in B.C., an effort monitored by scientists in Victoria. Some lakes and rivers are more susceptible to becoming contaminated with mussels because of PH levels and a variety of other factors.
“That’s the importance of the program. The fact that we catch these boats that have these mussels on them,” Lockwood said.
If a boat is found to have the invasive aquatic species attached to it, they can be decontaminated with high pressure hot water, and can be seized and quarantined for 30 days.
“In B.C., we provide that service for free. We want people to stop and participate in the program, so there is absolutely no cost to them,” Lockwood said.
There are 12 watercraft inspection stations set up across the province on major highways and U.S. borders. The inspection station in Golden has numerous signs posted to inform drivers that they must pull over for the inspection station located at the Kicking Horse rest area.