Larval zebra mussels have been found in Lake Winnipeg, according to provincial officials.

Zebra mussels were found for the first time in Manitoba last October, and province began treating several harbours with potash to get rid of them.

Despite initial success, there are now a small number of the larval mussels in Lake Winnipeg, said Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh.

No zebra mussel larva were found at the treated harbours, but nine larva were found in samples taken from the southeast and eastern portion of the south basin of the lake. 

Mackintosh said the province will continue monitoring their populations in the lake.

“It takes just one boat to infest an entire lake or waterway. That is a huge challenge to manage, but we can't just give up. All reasonable efforts will be made,” said Mackintosh.

Fishermen disappointed

Manitoba fisherman Robert Kristjanson said he’s mad and disappointed the province’s containment plan didn’t work.

But, he said, he’s not surprised the larva were discovered in the lake.

“I was hoping that this would be something of a miracle — that we would have these harbours here that would work,” he said. “This is the biggest concern that’s ever hit Lake Winnipeg.”

mussels

The province has been experimenting with a potash treatment to poison the mussels in several harbours along Lake Winnipeg. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Kristjanson had to stop working last summer while the province treated four of the harbours on Lake Winnipeg.

The invasive species reproduce quickly and can disrupt the food chain, clog water pipes and create algae.

The province has pledged to create new laws surrounding transporting water and introducing new requirements for boaters. 

"It's a shared responsibility. Governments can only do so much, particularly when it comes to awareness and risk reductions," said Mackintosh. "The only way to nail this is individual action."

The province is putting up more ads and billboards along harbours urging people to properly clean their boats and equipment as well as dispose of any bait or water when they leave the lake.

"We will be consulting with key stake holders and making sure that we remind the angling community that it's so important," said Mackintosh. "This is about ensuring their great day on the lake for years and years to come."

Mackintosh said it only takes one of the 80,000 boaters that come in and out of Manitoba’s waterways every year to bring in zebra mussels.

“Manitoba spent about $1 million over the last four years on zebra mussel prevention and has been recognized as a Canadian leader in such efforts,” said Mackintosh. “Efforts by all of us must now be strengthened.”

The province has brought in two additional decontamination units to be used with three existing ones in high-traffic boating areas for the remainder of the summer.

Efforts too little, too late, harbour master says

Gimli Harbour Master Gord Gowie said the efforts are too little, too late.

“Why are we talking about locking the barns now? Let’s put the horses under control that we have remaining,” he said. “We’ve known for years the larvae have been coming down the Red River from the States to this lake, so we knew they’d get here eventually.” 

Kristjanson’s family has been fishing Manitoba waters for the past 126 years, and now, he said, he's worried about the future.

“I hope it doesn’t turn out to be what they have on the Great Lake system. All we can do is sit and wait [to see] what happens,” he said.