BCWF demands increased funding to defend our waterways from invasive species

The B.C. Wildlife Federation has sent a letter to over 100 Members of the Legislative Assembly, cabinet ministers, and critics today, composed on the behalf of our 40 000+ members, regarding the severe lack of funding for the Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Fund and BC’s Invasive Mussel Defense Program.

Prevention is key, and without an increase in funding to these programs, the health and well-being of our waterways, and the lives of many native species are at risk, will be forever changed.

Read our letter below.


February 22, 2024 

Re: Invasive mussels and whirling disease 

This province is facing an unprecedented threat from invasive quagga and zebra mussels, and deadly parasites. The encroachment of mussels and the discovery of whirling disease in freshwater ecosystems on our border with Alberta have placed British Columbia on the precipice of ecological disaster. 

Once these mussels and parasites are in our waters there is no getting rid of them.  If these threats take hold, there will be no need for salmon restoration programs or fisheries innovation programs. There will be no fish to restore.   

We must take immediate action to close our borders to the spread of these species with round-the-clock surveillance aimed at detecting and eliminating invasive species on boats and trailers. The threat is not theoretical. Between May and December 2023, B.C.’s Invasive Mussel Defence Program intercepted 155 watercraft on their way into B.C. that were identified as high-risk for the mussels; 79 were decontaminated; 36 were quarantined. Fourteen were confirmed to have invasive mussels. 

Astonishingly, funding for surveillance from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), BC Hydro and FortisBC has dropped just as the threat is reaching its apex. DFO’s response in 2024 has been to reannounce funds already committed to the Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Fund, most of which is spent in Eastern Canada, with smaller amounts available in B.C. for sampling and monitoring in case mussels are already present.  

Prevention is key and it is always preferrable to managing an infestation. 

Substantial dedicated funding is required for prevention, while B.C. waters are still pristine. The Government of British Columbia, the Government of Canada, BC Hydro, and FortisBC must step up with at least $10 million a year in dedicated long-term funding for surveillance and prevention. Penalties for entering B.C. with an uninspected watercraft must be increased to get the public’s attention and compliance, including fines, jail and forfeiture of vehicles and watercraft. Funding and penalties must be enshrined in legislation. 

Governments and utilities are facing a future with massively higher costs for control, once these species are established. Zebra and quagga mussels are responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in the United States and Eastern Canada. They reproduce very quickly and are nearly impossible to eradicate once established. Zebra and quagga mussel infestations can clog pipes, municipal water intake gear, and hydropower equipment.     

Last September, quagga mussels were found in Idaho’s Snake River, a tributary to the Columbia River which connects to the Okanagan. Idaho’s response was to spread more than 116,000 litres of toxic copper chelate into the river, killing almost seven tonnes of fish, and poisoning a 26-km stretch of the river. There is no evidence that the intervention worked. This is not the sort of action we want to contemplate in British Columbia.  

A robust surveillance and mandatory disinfection program would do double duty on our provincial and international borders, by preventing the spread of the parasite Myxobolus cerebralis, which causes whirling disease in salmonids. 

Whirling disease can spread throughout the water and lie in the sediment for months, but it requires the presence of salmonid finfish and a specific aquatic worm to complete its life cycle. That means to break the parasite’s life cycle, every salmon and trout in an affected water body must be removed or killed to deprive the parasite of hosts in hopes the parasite cannot reproduce and eventually die out. This method has been tried, but to date it has not succeeded. Again, not the kind of solution that we want to consider in B.C., especially when preventative measures can be taken.  

The Government of Canada must also come to the table with funds to support surveillance, prevention and monitoring for freshwater invasives and parasites. The Canada Border Services Agency must be trained and activated to stop contaminated watercraft from entering B.C. 

It is the right of all British Columbians to enjoy our pristine waters and make memories with their families. Let’s not allow shortsightedness about the magnitude of these threats deny our children and grandchildren the simple joy of catching a fish or swimming in a lake. 

In Conservation,

Jesse Zeman, Executive Director, B.C. Wildlife Federation

and David Lewis, President, B.C. Wildlife Federation


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