PSF Supports Surveillance of Invasive Mussels

The Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) has contributed $50,000 to help prevent the arrival of invasive zebra and quagga mussels and the parasite that causes whirling disease in British Columbia. The establishment of these three species in B.C. could severely threaten Pacific salmon and disrupt their entire ecosystems.

PSF, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, and the B.C. Wildlife Federation jointly contributed $150,000 to support provincial surveillance of boats as they enter B.C. in an effort to keep these highly invasive species out of the province.

BC Hydro is also supporting the Province’s Invasive Mussel Defence Program with a new five-year commitment of annual funding of $900,000 beginning in 2024. Learn more about the provincial program.

“When the B.C. Wildlife Federation identified the need for extra funding to maintain inspection efforts of invasive mussels, PSF recognized the urgency to protect the future resilience of salmon. PSF proudly supports these invasive species surveillance efforts to ensure these destructive species don’t invade British Columbia,” says Jason Hwang, Chief Programs Officer and Vice President, Salmon at the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

Native to the Black Sea in Europe, zebra and quagga mussels have invaded the Great Lakes ecosystems and are spreading west – hitching a ride in the ballast water of boats, on boat trailers, and equipment as they are transported from an affected body of water to another system. They are found in Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba. The invasive mussels have also established in western U.S. states, including California, Nevada, and others. Quagga mussels were recently discovered in Idaho – which connects to the Pacific Northwest through the Columbia River system.

Ecosystem impacts

Invasive zebra and quagga mussels, along with the parasite Myxobolus cerebralis, which can also spread by boat and other equipment, can cause a number of serious impacts once established in an ecosystem.

Myxobolus cerebralis is a parasite that can lead to whirling disease, which causes trout and salmon to swim irregularly and can result in spinal and jaw deformities. While salmon and trout of all sizes can be affected, juveniles are particularly vulnerable, with mortality rates reaching up to 90 per cent in certain systems. There is no treatment for whirling disease.

Invasive zebra and quagga mussels filter water so efficiently that they deplete essential food sources like plankton, disrupting local food webs. They also contribute to the growth of toxic algal blooms, further impacting fish and wildlife. Moreover, when large mussel colonies establish in spawning habitats, the survival of fish eggs becomes increasingly jeopardized.

Invasive mussels on native mussels. Photo: Todd J. Morris/DFO

“The establishment of invasive zebra and quagga mussels in British Columbia would be devastating for Pacific salmon. It would become a top threat for salmon populations and their habitats,” says Hwang. “We need to be proactive in surveillance efforts at border crossings to prevent invasive mussels from establishing in British Columbia and wreaking havoc on local ecosystems.”

Already, there have been close calls. In 2023, the B.C. Invasive Mussel Defence Program intercepted 155 watercrafts entering the province that were identified as high-risk for the mussels. Of those, 79 were decontaminated and 36 were quarantined. Fourteen were confirmed to have invasive mussels.

“We are grateful our partners have supported surveillance and inspection points,” says Jesse Zeman, Executive Director, B.C. Wildlife Federation. “Nothing is more important to our freshwater ecosystems and fish than keeping invasives out. Once these species are established, it is impossible to remove them.”

Preventing and mitigating the impacts of invasive species on Pacific salmon and their habitats is a high priority. In addition to supporting increased inspections for invasive mussels, PSF is working with Coastal Restoration Society and First Nations partners on Vancouver Island to detect and monitor European green crabs – which can disrupt vital eelgrass habitat for juvenile salmon. PSF has also funded research on the impacts of invasive smallmouth bass on Pacific salmon in Cultus Lake.

If you are bringing a boat from out of the province, please contact the Provincial Program:

In British Columbia, anglers can forward reports and inquiries about whirling disease to: