The Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations (CHA) hosted their One Million Snails event this past weekend where volunteers celebrated the milestone of having removed one million invasive snails from Haliburton County lakes. /TIM YANO Special to the Echo

CHA removes one million invasive snails

By Thomas Smith

In 2020, the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Association (CHA) was approached by the South Lake Association of Cottagers and Residents to discuss an abundance of mystery snails covering the bed of their lake, reducing the enjoyment of boaters, paddlers, and swimmers in the County.

“They had been removing the snails and then found out that in order to remove the snails, they needed a license,” said Paul MacInnes, chair of the CHA. “There are valid reasons why you need a license. We started enquiring and found out licenses were available. It took about two years to get a license and applied to one person on one waterbody.”

“At this point the OFAH had been involved because they had been providing advice to us on how to remove the snails. The authority for granting these licenses was the Ministry of Natural Resources.”.

“We had a serious problem and needed to develop a system to grant multiple licenses and to get them in the period of a couple of months, rather than years.”

Over the winter of 2020, the Invasive Species Awareness program, CHA, and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters developed a new licensing program under scientific collections permit to allow hundreds of people to get the license at the same time.

“In 2021, we ran a training program for approximately 400 volunteers from 40 different lakes and all of those people then passed their qualifications and were able to be listed under the master license that is controlled by the invasive species awareness program, so we started collecting snails,” explained MacInnes.

“It’s quite a process, we had to get permission form the four municipalities to dispose of these snails. They have to be handled very carefully, double bagged in clear bags. A seagull could pick up an invasive snail and drop it in another lake and suddenly you have the same problem in another lake.”

“It was a big success, we had 400 people licensed and picked out over 400,000 snails the first year.”

This year will be the fourth year of the Mystery Snail Project. Licenses were issued just before the May long weekend and will expire in the fall before the trout spawning season begins. The CHA is planning on collecting their 1,000,000th snail from the lakes in Haliburton County.

“We’re never gonna be able to eliminate these snails. They breed very quickly. Each snail can give birth to approximately 100 baby snails each year and they do not come out as eggs, but as fully formed as snails with the shell. Unlike other snails that come out as eggs and can be quickly eaten by fish,” said MacInnes.

“The snails can spread viruses and illnesses, cause swimmer›s itch and can get so thick you cannot walk in the water. When they die they float up and it is not comfortable to swim in the lakes.”

Internationally, people have admired the program’s success and presented it at international conferences like Belgium.

“We have an incredible volunteer community and people really care about the lakes. We continue to run the training program every spring and get a couple hundred people or so licensed every year.”

“It’s not a one time thing, I do my shoreline every second day or shore and I go back two days later and there will be less, but new snails in the area,” said MacInnes.

“It points to the need for all of us to watch what we need to do like clean, drain, and dry our boats.” That is the biggest single way that invasive species are spread throughout our lakes, said MacInnes.

As a snail harvesting volunteer, you go out and collect the snails. After collecting them, you have to fill out an online form that says where you collected the snails, provide pictures to verify the snail and how many snails were collected. Photos of the snails must be submitted to experts to ensure you are only collecting invasive species and not a native species of gastropod.

“We’re dealing with volunteers, not people who are employees,” said MacInnes.

“The fact that we have had 300 to 400 volunteers speaks volumes. That is a huge number of volunteers. People are pretty positive about it. They see a positive impact on their swimming area and boating area. These things also hurt the fish population because they out-compete other snails that are food for fish. It’s been very, very positive. People keep coming out year after year.”

“One of the principles of the program is that they are living creatures and they need to be euthanized in the most humane way possible. It has taken some time to figure out the best method. One of the first things that was suggested was to bury them,” said MacInnes. “They have experimented with it and found that some were still alive after three months. The current method is to put them in double-bagged clear bags left out in the sun and the heat will euthanize the snails.”

“It’s a celebration for the folks on South Lake. Without them, the program never would have happened,” said MacInnes.

“If we end with one message, clean, drain, and dry is so critical. I am so incredibly proud of this program and the volunteers we have in Haliburton County. We are known throughout the area and in North America for our dedication to lake health.”