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Sniffing out zebra mussels

Dog joins hunt for invasive species

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Natural resource officer Chad Moir with canine-unit member, Fauna, who will keep a nose out for zebra mussels.

SARAH TAYLOR / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Natural resource officer Chad Moir with canine-unit member, Fauna, who will keep a nose out for zebra mussels. Photo Store

Meet Fauna the German shepherd, the province's latest weapon in the fight against the spread of zebra mussels.

Fauna, with her handler, Natural Resources officer Chad Moir, is to be trained over the coming months to sniff out the invasive zebra mussels at various monitoring stations -- such as border crossings and boat launches -- by next summer.

Fauna is already trained to sniff out hidden fish fillets and spent firearm shell casings.

Moir said Fauna's keen sense of smell will be used to search boats and trailers for the tiny zebra mussels before those boats are launched in Manitoba's lakes. A similar pilot program has been successful in Alberta.

"You walk into a room and smell a pizza. She'll walk into a room and smell each individual ingredient on it," Moir said. "That's kind of how their noses work. They work so much better than ours."

Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said Fauna's nose is only one part of the province's efforts to root out the mussels, first found in Lake Winnipeg last year.

He said the province is also looking at introducing tougher requirements for boaters, similar to those already in place in Minnesota.

The government said this would include laws about transporting water, introducing requirements to drain water from a boat before leaving a water body, requiring watercraft to be transported with the drain plug removed and for all water from boat and bait containers to be drained. Enforcement powers and fines are also under review. Alberta is also looking at stricter measures.

Earlier this summer, the province attempted to halt the spread of the mussels from four Lake Winnipeg harbours by treating them with potassium, but monitoring this summer in those harbours and other areas found a small number of larval or veliger zebra mussels.

More than 60 previous samples had revealed no zebra mussel activity in Lake Winnipeg.

Increased sampling has since determined zebra mussels are present in more areas, including:

-- On the east side of Lake Winnipeg, approximately 9.5 kilometres southwest of Balsam Bay, 44 veligers (larvae) and juvenile zebra mussels were confirmed on a piece of floating debris and on rock structures;

-- Winnipeg Beach sample results found 51 veligers inside the harbour and 193 veligers outside it;

-- Gimli and Arnes samples show suspected juvenile zebra mussels. Samples taken from these harbours are being analyzed;

-- Willow Point samples found approximately 24 juvenile zebra mussels;

-- Hnausa samples found about 12 juvenile zebra mussels.

Dr. Jeff Long, the province's manager of fisheries science and fish culture, said the spread of the mussels indicates they are reproducing outside the treated harbours in the south basin of Lake Winnipeg and then entering the harbours.

"The hydrodynamics of the lake, wind, human traffic -- all of those things can play a role in how the species moves," Long said.

Mackintosh also said boat decontamination stations have been set up at Gimli, Winnipeg Beach and Selkirk Park, and portable decontamination units will move between other high-traffic harbours. The province wants to add more units and extend their operating hours.

Manitobans and visitors are also asked to use the proper four-step cleaning and containment protocol for mussels when leaving the lake.

Boats should either be cleaned with high-temperature and high-pressure water, or remain out of water for at least five days in the heat or 18 days in cooler temperatures, or left in freezing temperatures for three days before launching again.

"Zebra mussels are relatively easy to kill," Long said. "The thing is they are highly prolific. If they're allowed to inhabit a place, they will flourish if conditions are right."

Mackintosh added the province is working with the federal government for more national assistance at the U.S. border in partnership with the Canada Border Service Agency, to better monitor watercraft coming into the province from the United States.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2014 A10

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