Mitigating mystery snails in county waters

By Chad Ingram

The Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations is launching a program aimed at decreasing the population of Chinese mystery snails, an invasive species, in the county’s lakes.

County councillors heard a presentation about the program from CHA chairman Paul MacInnes during a May 12 online meeting.

As MacInnes explained, the snails have been in North America since 1892, when merchants began selling them in markets in San Francisco. They’ve since spread throughout North America, into all of the Great Lakes, and, during the past few years, into the lakes and rivers of Haliburton County.

“They’ve been spreading up through our county lakes for the last number of years, and one of the purposes of this project is to find out exactly where they are, but we know that they started in the southwest corner down in Moore Lake and they’re spreading through the Trent system, and we know they’re up as far as Haliburton Lake,” MacInnes said. “They breed ferociously and our lakes are an ideal environment for them.”

The snails are large and are most easily identifiable by a trap door they have on the bottom, Their tops are quite sharp, able to cut feet if stepped on, and they are found in shallow areas of lakes. “If they’re not collected up, you’ll see more and more of them,” MacInnes said.

However, that collection process is more complicated than just pulling snails out of the water.

“As we started talking to the regulatory authorities, they said, well, you need a licence to collect these,” MacInnes explained, adding there were legal reasons behind this requirement. “They are considered fish under the Fisheries Act, even though they’re an invasive species.”

He added they can also carry bacteria that can be harmful to humans if one doesn’t know how to properly handle them. Unregulated collection can also lead to further spread, say, if someone was collecting snails from the water, placing them on a dock, and then one was to be picked up by a seagull, and carried to another lake.

According to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, the removal of one snail can result in as many as 100 fewer snails in a lake the next year. The snails also consume bass eggs, thereby lowering a lake’s bass population.

In a new type of program framework, the CHA has applied for a permit to allow for collection of the snails, and a training session for volunteers was taking place on Saturday, May 15.

“All volunteers, anyone who touches the snails, must take the training and be listed on the permit,” MacInnes said, explaining 235 people had signed up for the training. Anyone removing the snails without a permit can technically face penalties from conservation officers, and MacInnes said the creation of the program required approval from the MNRF, which is a partner organization on the project, along with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the Ontario Invasive Species Awareness Program.

Authorities will be notified of snail collection events, as well as where the snails are deposited. The creatures must be double-bagged and either buried or placed in landfills. Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin wondered if townships might have to amend their certificates of authority for landfills in order to permit the depositing of the snails.

Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said she’d checked with her township’s environmental consultant agency and was told the township would not require an amendment for such. Moffatt noted there should probably be some communication with landfill attendants.

“People who work at landfills need to know they might be getting bags of snails, and that they’re permitted,” she said.

Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts wondered what people should do if they think they see any of the snails, and MacInnes said that lake associations would be giving information about how to report sightings.

He said it’s expected the program will last a number of years, and that complete eradication was not the goal and likely impossible.

“But we need to control the population,” he said.