July 17, 2022 – 6:02 pm
A Lake Ontario barge containing thousands of invasive zebra mussels that was intercepted in late June on its way to work in the Lower Mainland is owned by a British Columbia company that was well aware of its obligations to clean it up.
The Fraser River Pile and Dredge barge, which calls itself ‘the largest marine, land foundation and dredging company in Canada’, was being shipped by truck in several sections and all had to be stopped by conservation officers. They found it laden with invasive mussels that BC is trying to keep out of local waterways.
READ MORE: Thousands of invasive mussels removed from ship heading to British Columbia
“The business owner, actually, was very cooperative,” said Sgt. Josh Lockwood of the BC Conservation Officer Service told iNFOnews.ca. “The owner had told us that he had done his best to remove the mussels from his boat.”
To date, BC has been successful in preventing invasive mussels from entering BC from contaminated lakes in eastern Canada and the United States.
“There are two ways to decontaminate a boat,” Lockwood said. “Either it stays out of the water for 31 days, in which case anything alive is no longer viable. The other is to apply a warm water wash. They said they washed it, but it wasn’t done to the satisfaction of the provincial government, so those boats were held for 30 days.
The large self-propelled barge, separated into two loads, was returning to British Columbia after work on Lake Ontario.
One shipment was stopped and inspected in Manitoba and the other in Alberta. Neither province had the capacity to decontaminate such large ships.
Although inspectors notified officials in British Columbia, the company gave no notification that it might be carrying contaminated vessels.
“Our officers contacted the trucking company and had them arrested in Chilliwack,” Lockwood said. “Our officers came and they put seals on the vessels in tow so they couldn’t be removed. It is illegal to break the seal.
Fraser River Pile and Dredge then arranged to have them transported to a site in Richmond which has a huge concrete berm barrier to put these vessels in for the 30 day storage period.
A team of eight officers spent 2.5 days scraping and burning barge molds. Then the owner had them painted with a special paint.
READ MORE: Overworked BC Invasive Mussel Sniffer Dog Gets Help
The mussels were taken to a laboratory where some were still alive, but there were none, not even dead, on the ships when they were recently released by authorities.
“It is illegal to import live or dead mussels into the province,” Lockwood said. “It is classed as wildlife and illegal to possess, dead or alive, in the province of British Columbia.”
This only results in a fine of around $250. Fines can reach up to $1 million if this wildlife is released.
The incident is still under investigation and no decision has yet been made on whether charges will be filed.
“We’re always looking for the cooperation of people coming in,” Lockwood said. “Some people are unaware. I’m not sure the company knew the law and the requirements were there. Having conversations with their management, they were beyond sorry because management didn’t have that idea and , once they found out they were totally cooperative with what we needed to do.
Part of the problem may stem from the fact that Fraser River Pile and Dredge worked with a contractor who hired the trucking company. Although Fraser River Pile and Dredge was ultimately responsible, the fact that three companies were involved likely contributed to miscommunication, Lockwood said.
The good news is that since the barges were destined for the lower Fraser, the risk of mussels living in the salt water of that part of the river is low, Lockwood said.
Similarly, the risk of mussels, which “stick like glue” to watercraft, escaping from barges en route across Canada is also low, he said.
One barge was trucked through Kamloops on Highway 1 while the other took Highway 5 through Valemount and Kamloops.
It appears that the number of boats transporting mussels in British Columbia is increasing, even from pre-pandemic levels.
The Penticton monitoring station, for example, has decontaminated 19 boats from high-risk areas so far this year. None found any live mussels, Lockwood said.
The Fraser River Pile and Dredge website says it started in 1911 and has “extensive experience in identifying and mitigating potential adverse impacts to environmental resources in both terrestrial and aquatic settings.”
It also says its environmental policy “highlights our commitment to meet or exceed all legal requirements and voluntary commitments.”
He is based in New Westminster.
No one from the company has returned calls from iNFOnews.ca at the time of publication.
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