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Shields signs letter to PM urging action on Zebra mussels

Posted on May 9, 2024 by Vauxhall Advance

By Cal Braid
Vauxhall Advance
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In recent weeks, Bow River MP Martin Shields has been engaged with stakeholders, constituents, and colleagues to understand how MPs can contribute to the fight against Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) in Alberta. In his April newsletter, he said, “I met with both the Alberta Invasive Species Council and the Ontario Invasive Species Centre, the former providing a briefing with suggestions for all levels of government. I am pleased to see some of these suggestions implemented in Alberta’s announcement.”

He’s referring to a recent announcement by the Province, which pledges to take action by protecting Alberta’s aquatic ecosystems and their related economies from Zebra-Quagga mussels (ZQM). The province intends to increase watercraft inspection stations, add inspectors, and create an AIS taskforce to keep the province free of ZQM while mitigating the impacts of other invasive species. Still, Shields believes there are further actions to be considered.

“At the federal level, Conservatives are committed to keeping Alberta and western waters ZQM free – and we will continue to pressure the federal government to take action to prevent impending disaster,” he said. Forty-four Conservative MPs – 22 from Alberta – signed and sent a letter about AIS action to the prime minister. Other southern Alberta MPs Rachael Thomas and Glen Motz were among the signatures on the letter.

The letter expresses concern over the Trudeau government’s “inaction” relating to the problem of AIS. Preventing the harms caused by Zebra-Quagga mussels is essential for both ecological and economic reasons. In Western Canada, wild fish species like Pacific and Kokanee salmon along with Rainbow and Lake trout suffer from damaged aquatic habitats once the invasive mussels are introduced. The letter says that ZQMs “stimulate toxic algae blooms that kill migratory birds and contaminate drinking water.”

Reportedly the Great Lakes are invaded to the point that it costs $500 million per year to manage the problem, and Shields isn’t keen on seeing the invasion creep further west. The species can clog the intake structures in power stations and water treatment plants and damage watercraft as well. As of 2020, Manitoba is the western-most province in Canada known to have been invaded by Zebra mussels.

According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), “Zebra mussels are native to the Black and Caspian seas region in southeastern Europe. They entered the Great Lakes in the late 1980s through ballast water discharged from ships. Since then, they have spread through much of eastern Canada and the United States.” Their larvae, called veligers, are microscopic, can float in water, and will follow lake and river currents until they settle on a solid surface. This means they can easily affect waterways connected to an invaded area.

“Most importantly, Zebra mussels can survive out of water for up to 18 days in high humidity,” the DFO reports. “They can attach themselves to watercraft and be spread over land to uninvaded water bodies. That’s why it’s important for water users to clean, drain, and dry their watercraft and/or equipment when leaving an invaded waterbody.”

“Zebra mussels are filter feeders that attach themselves to solid surfaces. They breed very quickly, as females can release up to one million eggs each breeding season,” the DFO says. They can colonize in densities over 700,000 individuals per m2 on boats, docks, rocks, and plants. The mussels can out-compete native species for food and affect the composition of other communities within the ecosystem by:

-altering food webs by removing native species’ food sources, such as plankton

-affecting fish spawning areas by changing important substrates, which impacts the survival of fish eggs

-creating clearer water, which allows sunlight to penetrate deeper, increases the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation, and leads to toxic algal blooms. Zebra mussels do not feed on toxic algae, which increase pathogenic bacteria, avian botulism, and localized anoxia.

The letter signed by Conservative MPs warns the prime minister, “If you continue to turn a blind eye to these ongoing failures, western Canada will soon face an irreversible invasion of ZQM that will permanently damage more ecosystems and economies…” It blames the ministers of several key departments for failing to deliver on their mandates and neglecting the officers who are assigned to enforce the transport of invasive species.

Shields said, “I, along with my Conservative team, look forward to continuing engagement with provincial counterparts and stakeholders to ensure Alberta waters remain ZQM free.”

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