As the summer boating season kicks into full gear in Saskatchewan, the province is issuing an important reminder to boaters in an effort to keep the province's lakes clean and healthy.
In the past, aquatic invasive species have been transported and spread by unsuspecting vacationers, both from inside Saskatchewan and neighbouring provinces, along with the United States.
"One of the common ways they are spread is actually through the movement of recreational watercraft and equipment," said Jeri Geiger, the team lead for the aquatic invasive species program with the Ministry of Environment. "Anything that is in the water or that can transport water is at risk of transporting invasive species."
This includes everything from boats to canoes to kayaks to sea doos. Some of the species include larvae of zebra and quagga mussels, which are microscopic.
"The smallest amount of water left behind in a live well, or in a bilge (pump) or in a wet lifejacket could be potentially carrying larvae of invasive species," Geiger said.
Geiger said watercraft operators have to be diligent to avoid contributing to the problem.
"It's really really really important for folks to make sure that every time they use their watercraft, they make sure that it's completely cleaned so there's no plants and there's nothing attached, that it's completely drained, so drain all on-board water from anything that can hold lake water. And then completely dried as well...everything needs to be dried in between use," she said.
She added that when you are transporting your watercraft in Saskatchewan, the drain plug must be removed, otherwise you could be pulled over by a conservation officer. There are also watercraft inspection stations in the province to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.
"If it's an active station, you are required to stop if you're transporting a watercraft," Geiger said. "And this includes all types of watercraft, not just motorized. And it doesn't matter how long it's been out of the water. Some people think that it's just folks coming in from out of province that need to stop at our stations, but that's not the case. Any person transporting a watercraft that encounters a station must stop. It is mandatory and required by law."
So far this year, Geiger said her team has intercepted three watercrafts in the province that had mussels attached. Recently, she said many contaminated boats have come from provinces to the east, including Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. Manitoba and the U.S. have prevalent zebra mussels, while Saskatchewan does not.
"Our southern borders and our eastern borders are a high priority as far as where we assign our resources for inspection and things like that," she said.
She added that anybody from Saskatchewan that is purchasing a boat out east should get it inspected immediately before using it.
Finally, Geiger said some of the species are visible to the naked eye.
"It depends what life stage they're at. Of course the larvae, they're microscopic, they're in the water, you're not going to be able to see them, which is of course why we recommend you don't transport water at all," she said.
"When they're immature, they can tend to feel a little bit like sand paper on a smooth surface. So they might not be very easy to identify but by feeling them if you've got a bit of a sandpaper feeling on your hand, that could potentially be immature mussels," she said.
"Adult zebra mussels are pretty distinct, they're easy to identify. They have that distinct stripe, they're a triangular type shell. Same thing with quagga mussels...they're a little bit more rounded, but they're distinctly v or triangular shaped compared to any native species."
"So if you're doing a proper inspection of your watercraft, you should be able to see them."