Dogs will help sniff out mussels in new boat inspections

Dylan Robertson, Calgary Herald March 20, 2015

Cross-border boaters will soon be greeted by nosy dogs, as the province tries to sniff out invasive mussels.

The provincial legislature passed its final vote last Thursday to add mandatory inspections to the Alberta Fisheries Act. Sniffer dogs are now on hand to help out when the bill gets royal assent, as soon as next week.

Dogs will be used in Alberta inspection stations to sniff out invasive mussels.
Dogs will be used in Alberta inspection stations to sniff out invasive mussels.

“Aquatic Invasive Species are one the largest threats facing Alberta’s waterways and biodiversity,” Environment Minister Kyle Fawcett said in a news release. The government says the ongoing infestation of zebra and quagga mussels risks clogging the province’s pipes, which would cost $75 million a year to fix.

Researchers have documented both invasive species spreading throughout the western United States and Eastern Canada, making it as far west as Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. The mussels filter through water, soaking up most of the nutrients that aquatic plants and animals depend on.

There’s no record of the non-native mussels in Alberta waterways, but several infested boats have been intercepted in the past couple of years. Both species can live out of water for 30 days, and have a tendency to cling to tucked-away boat parts like propellers.

That’s where canine detectives Wicket, Lily and Orbee come in. The three, provided by the group Working Dogs for Conservation, were part of a pilot inspection program last summer. They’ll be continuing this boating season while the province sets up a permanent canine team.

Ngaio Richards, who trained Wicket, told the Herald the black-lab mix is “exuberant” to be back on the job.

“She sits by where she’s found the scent, and if one of asks ‘show me’ she will indicate with her nose and gets a treat, which is a toy ball,” said Richards. “Sometimes shelter dogs are the best kind of dog for sniffing out things.”

The inspections will take place at commercial vehicle weigh stations throughout Alberta, as well as at main points of entry. They’ll be funded by the provincial government and the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association.

“We must all work together to ensure we protect our vital water environment and our economy in southern Alberta. Our partnership with the Government to fund these dogs and their handlers, together with mandatory boat inspections, will protect the more than 4,000 kilometres of irrigation pipelines in southern Alberta,” said Ron McMullin the association’s executive director, in a news release.

Once passed, the new amendments will also give law-enforcement officers more powers to stop contaminated watercraft, and add a list of prohibited species list to the act.

The provincial hotline for information on Aquatic Invasive Species is 1-855-336-2628 (BOAT)


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