One of the loudest advocates for federal rules to drown invasive species’ attempts to reach Okanagan lakes is cautiously optimistic about proposed regulations announced Friday.
At the heart of the new rules is a list of prohibited species, including zebra and quagga mussels, and new powers for fisheries officers and border guards to block anyone who attempts to bring the invaders into Canada.
Currently, there are such rules in B.C., but only provincial conservation officers can enforce them, meaning border guards are powerless to stop a boat with mussels attached from entering the country from the U.S., where the species are well-established.
Leading the charge for the new rules was the Okanagan Basin Water Board, which has warned it could cost up to $40 million a year to deal with the fallout from mussels, which would foul water intakes, crowd out native species and litter beaches with razor-sharp shells, if allowed to colonize here.
Executive director Anna Warwick Sears said the proposed rules appear to be just what her organization was looking for.
“It’s the most common-sense thing that we can do is have that law there at the international border crossing. It’s the easiest, cheapest, most obvious. And it’s complimentary with provincial legislation that passed two years ago,” she said.
“The weak point is always… the funding and the enforcement.”
Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas, who announced the new regulations in Kelowna, said the cost of rolling out and enforcing the proposed rules is unknown. However, he noted that Fisheries and Oceans Canada has a $14 million annual budget available for combatting aquatic invasive species.
Although the B.C. government rolled out its invasive species regulations two years ago, Albas said the federal government needed to take its time to get the rules right.
“We need to make sure we have a comprehensive response that works with different jurisdictions, both provincial and territorial,” he explained.
Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan, who joined Albas for the announcement, said the proposed regulations will now go through a formal public consultation process that could wrap up in just a few months.
“We’d love to see (the regulations) in place for next boating season. That’s our ultimate goal,” he said.
Besides new regulations, the OBWB has also called for adoption of a system similar to one in Idaho that charges boaters $10 a year to help pay for inspection stations where vessels entering the state are checked for invasive species.
Warwick Sears would like to see such stations on major highways in the Southern Interior to check out boaters travelling here from out of province or country, although organizing such a system will most likely fall to the B.C. government.
“I think part of that is unknown based on the provincial government still trying to get their own approach organized, but I’m sure there’s a lot of dialogue back and forth right now trying to figure that out,” she said.