Tuesday, 02 January 2018 14:26

Research results highlight concerns over keeping invasive mussels out of Saskatchewan

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University of Regina biology student Lushani Nanayakkara takes scientific samples on a lake in southern Saskatchewan. University of Regina biology student Lushani Nanayakkara takes scientific samples on a lake in southern Saskatchewan. Photo submitted

Efforts to keep zebra and quagga mussels out of Saskatchewan lakes and waterways might be hampered by a mistaken belief among lake users that these aquatic invasive species have already entered water bodies in the province.

 

This is one of the key findings from a research paper in the journal Biological Invasions by Lushani Nanayakkara, a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the Department of Biology at the University of Regina.

“These findings suggest maybe a possible disconnect between current outreach effort and the information that people are retaining,” she said.

She conducted a survey on prairie lake use and management in 2015 and 2016 to gather information from lake users about various issues, including their knowledge of aquatic systems and lake management strategies, as well as a section on their knowledge of invasive species.

A total of 476 respondents completed the survey. They have visited lakes across the province, including Lac Pelletier, Redberry, Wakaw, Lenore, Kipabiskau, Little Manitou, Fishing, Buffalo Pound, Last Mountain, and Echo lakes, as well as lakes in the Qu’Appelle River catchment.

Most of the respondents (86.7 per cent) have heard about zebra mussels, but only about 33 per cent were aware of quagga mussels. 

“I think that’s because the zebra mussels have definitely gotten the most media attention, because they are more prolific in the Great Lakes than quagga mussels at this point,” she said. “So when we hear about invasive mussels causing infrastructure damage and damage to fish populations, it’s usually in reference to zebra mussels.”

Regardless of how much they knew about the various mussel species, the majority of survey participants were aware of the negative impacts of exotic mussels. Most respondents (80.3 per cent) knew zebra mussels have a negative impact. While 58.3 per cent also felt the same about quagga mussels, the remaining 39.8 per cent were still unsure about their impact.

The most surprising result was that only 27.4 per cent of respondents knew zebra mussels have not yet been found in Saskatchewan and just 24 per cent of survey participants were aware that quagga mussels are absent from the province.

“The biggest problem with that is keeping these mussels out is completely dependent on people practising really key preventative behaviours,” she said. “So that’s going to be cleaning, draining and drying your boat when you’re bringing a boat into the province, and you also want to do that between water bodies, even in the province, so that you’re not transferring things from lake to lake.”

Lake users will probably be more willing to take these steps if they are aware that these mussels have not been found in Saskatchewan.

“So the biggest danger with them thinking we already have these mussels is that they’re going to be less likely to engage in those behaviours,” she said. “They might end up thinking ‘Oh, we already have them, so I might not really need to clean my boat’, and that’s the real danger to the province’s management objective of keeping them out of our waters.”

Survey respondents also lacked knowledge about the preventative steps that must be followed, and just 5.7 per cent indicated the cleaning, draining and drying of boats are the best ways to prevent a mussel invasion. While 61.1 per cent were aware of one of these steps, a significant number of lake users (33.2 per cent) had no knowledge about the recommended cleaning procedures.

“I think we actually need to rethink the strategy that we’ve been using, because there’s definitely a disconnect between the message and what people are retaining,” she said.

Nanayakkara recommends that current outreach and communication efforts will have to be reviewed after consultation with stakeholders to identify the reasons why the current strategies are not working.

“I think they should really consult people in the process and try to understand what methods they think will be effective,” she said. “Then we can come up with a collaborative approach of disseminating this information rather than just the top down approach.”

It is important from a management perspective to continue to emphasize and to inform lake users that these invasive mussels are not in Saskatchewan and that they should be kept out, but she feels it is also time for a more drastic step.

“I think something we might need to consider is having mandatory inspection stations along especially the eastern corridor in the province where boats are more likely coming from Manitoba,” she said.

This is necessary on Saskatchewan’s east side because the presence of zebra mussels in Manitoba’s Lake Winnipeg were confirmed in 2013.

She acknowledged the cost of mandatory inspection stations is a factor, but this can be addressed through cooperation between the different stakeholders.

“I fully understand there may be resource constraints associated with why they don’t have it, but I also think this is a really good opportunity to form a collaborative partnership between communities and industry and the government, because the impacts of these mussels getting into lakes are not going to be limited to individual lakes,” she said. “It’s going to have reverberating economic consequences. So if you consider that, this is a good opportunity to form this partnerships, if it is a resource issue.”

 
Read 354 times Last modified on Tuesday, 02 January 2018 14:30
Matthew Liebenberg

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