Manitoba ramps up zebra mussel fight, pledging to spend $1M in coming year

The Manitoba government says it is not raising the white flag in its fight against zebra mussels in Lake Winnipeg, instead it is ramping up the funds to battle the invasive species.

New funds will go to increased inspections and enforcement as well as public education and research

Zebra mussels coat a boat's stainless steel trim tab and cylinder in Gimli Harbour. (Submitted by Dean Thorkelsson)

The Manitoba government says it is not raising the white flag in its fight against zebra mussels in Lake Winnipeg, instead it is ramping up the funds to battle the invasive species.

"We have not given up on Lake Winnipeg," Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Tom Nevakshonoff said Monday after announcing the government will dedicate $1 million towards to the fight in 2016. The province spent $520,000 in the past year.

Here's how the $1 million will be spent in 2016:

  • $800,000 for inspection and decontamination at more key locations
  • $170,000 for public awareness, additional signs and advertising
  • $50,000 for enforcement
  • $25,000 for the creation of a new research and development fund

"Based on experience in other places, we know that zebra mussels can have negative effects for industry, cottagers, beachgoers, boaters and fishers," Nevakshonoff said.

"We believe that the health of Lake Winnipeg is worth fighting for and with these investments. We will help Manitobans learn more about zebra mussels and what they can do to help prevent the spread in the province."

'Silver bullet' is getting boaters on board 

The province also announced further regulations are expected later, perhaps as soon as the end of the week. These new regulations could include fines for carrying zebra mussels and protection for aquatic species that pray on zebra mussels, such as the freshwater drum. 

But the province said there are limits to what predators can accomplish. 

"That is not the silver bullet for Lake Winnipeg," said Candace Parks, who is the province's aquatic invasive species specialist about the freshwater drum. 

Parks said the department will investigate if predators can be added to the arsenal to combat the invasive mussels, but they will not be the priority. 

"What the silver bullet is, is that people need to take the proper steps and clean, drain and dry and dispose and make sure they're not spreading zebra mussels to other water bodies. That is what we need to get people to do," she said. 

The new government funding will go toward increased inspections and enforcement — more decontamination units and more staff for watercraft inspection stations will be added in summer 2016 — as well as public education and research.

Nevakshonoff also announced a special research fund will be established for science that is specific to Manitoba's waters. 

The public awareness campaign will include:

  • Providing information about the damage caused by zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species.
  • Providing clear instructions about how to clean watercraft and water-related equipment properly.
  • Supplying information on the new aquatic invasive species laws.

The invasive species, which reproduces aggressively, was first spotted in the south basin of Lake Winnipeg in October 2013.

In the spring of 2014, the province attempted to choke them out by treating four major harbours with potash. Although the treatments were successful on the mussels that were present, the harbours were re-invaded by other mussels.

The mussels are now considered a "significant environmental and economic concern to Manitoba" with them being found as far north as near Matheson Island, in the Hecla area, south of Grindstone Point, in the Red River, at Manitoba Hydro's Selkirk generating station and at the St. Andrews lock and dam, the province has said.

Lake Winnipeg a lost cause

Earlier this month, a University of Winnipeg biologist said Lake Winnipeg is already a lost cause.

"It's beyond the point now of being able to do anything at all about it," Eva Pip, a biologist who studies water quality and Manitoba's lakes and rivers, told CBC News.

Pip said zebra mussels will choke out everything else in a lake because they reproduce so quickly, with millions of mussels forming carpets on the bottoms of boats and along lake bottoms.

The best that can be done now, Pip said, is to keep zebra mussels from spreading into other waterways.

Nevakshonoff disagrees with Pip's assertion that it's too late for the lake but people must make every effort to stop the spread, and that includes the public as well as other governments.

Nevakshonoff announced the appointment of Annette Trimbee, president of the University of Winnipeg — and someone with a strong background in ecology and environmental science — as co-chair for the Lake Friendly Stewards Alliance Steering Committee.

She will work with the provincial scientific committee but also provide strategic advice to the minister of conservation and water on trans-boundary issues.

Other additions to the science committee include Margaret Docker, a biologist at the University of Manitoba, Jim Reist of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Donna Kashian, a zoologist with a specialty in aquatic ecology from Wayne State University in Detroit.

The public is encouraged to report any AIS by taking a photo and calling 1-87-STOP AIS-0 (1-877-867-2470).

For more information on zebra mussels and aquatic invasive species (AIS), check the government's website.


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