Invasive mussels found on boat during mandatory inspection near Sylvan Lake

Inspectors netted a potential million dollar problem by catching a boat contaminated with an invasive mussels species before it could slip into the waters of Sylvan Lake. The discovery was made during one of Alberta's now mandatory inspections.

Zebra and quagga mussels pose great threat to Alberta's lakes and rivers

Inspections stations like this one stop boats before they enter lakes or rivers in Alberta. As of April, the inspections are mandatory. (Government of Alberta)

Inspectors with the provincial government netted a potential million dollar problem by catching a boat contaminated with an invasive species of mussels before it could slip into the waters of Sylvan Lake on the weekend.

Being dubbed a "close call" by those who stopped the boat, the discovery was made during one of the province's now mandatory inspections.

Transport officers believe the boat picked up the mussels from a lake in Ontario and the boat's owner will not be charged. They will also decontaminate the boat without charge

Zebra and quagga mussels are freshwater mollusks that are difficult to eradicate once introduced to a lake or a river and can alter ecosystems, displacing native species.

Further complicating the battle is that the invasive mussels can live out of water for up to a month.

To date, there are no known lakes or rivers in Alberta infected by the tenacious mussels, but the relatively small "hitchhikers" have the potential to be a costly problem if they ever do appear in Alberta waters.

The Alberta government estimates the annual loss to the province at $75 million should the mussels successfully invade its lakes and rivers, an amount that includes potential revenue loss if lakes become unusable for fishing or recreation.

Dogs the 'muscle' behind mussel inspections

Perhaps the biggest threat to Alberta lakes comes from south of the border where the invasive mussels have cropped up in Washington State and Arizona.

The government has run a mussel-inspection station at the Coutts border crossing in Montana since 2013, which has stopped seven boats.

Last year the inspection team included three sniffer dogs, rescue dogs from the U.S. trained to detect the mussels.

The provincial government is now working to train its own permanent team of dogs, including rescue dogs from Edmonton to be its "muscle" in its hunt for mussels.