Chamber wants boats allowed
Connor McDowell - May 27, 2024 - Biz Releases

Photo: Castanet

Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce is questioning the idea of banning out-of-province boats in B.C. this season, instead calling for more funding to screen out invasive mussels.

As tourism season approaches, the threat of invasive mussels spreading into the Okanagan from out of province is growing. In October, the Okanagan Water Basin Board called for a temporary ban on out-of-province vessels entering B.C.

“We respect the approach that other organizations have taken in calling for a moratorium on out-of-province watercraft, however the Greater Vernon Chamber believes that adequate funding to combat invasive species would be a better long-term solution to this issue,” chamber president Kirndeep Nahal said in a press release.

The tourism sector has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires and new legislation impacting short-term rentals. “The last thing they need is another reason for tourists to choose somewhere else to travel,” Nahal said.

A different approach could be increased funding for screening boats from the federal government, the chamber wrote.

This could allow inspection efforts to catch mussels before they enter the water, as well as teach people how to stop the spread. This would mean tourists could visit the Okanagan with less risk of introducing invasive species to its lakes.

The Vernon chamber’s idea goes against a decision from the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce. In February, the Kelowna chamber fully supported a call to temporarily ban boats that come from out of the province.

At the time, data was available showing that 155 watercraft entering B.C. were identified as high-risk for invasive mussels, and 14 were confirmed to be carrying the mussels. This data was compiled by the Invasive Mussels Defensive Program between May and December 2023.

“Until the province gets 24 hour inspection stations, strengthens the legislation, does all the things that they need to do to fill the gaps, updates their plans … we need to have a comprehensive approach and at this time it has not been given enough priority from the provincial government,” OWBB executive director Anna Warwick-Sears said at the time.

The Vernon chamber is calling on the province to increase funding.

“An increase in funding could gainfully be used toward creating mechanisms for watercraft inspections and invasive mussel awareness,” Nahal said. “In the end, those calling for a moratorium and those that are against want the same thing and that’s for the federal government to increase funding to protect our ecosystem and make sure our lakes can be used by local families and tourists for years to come.”

The press release from Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce comes after a downtown business called for help. ANTLR Menswear owner Amanda Homeniuk told Castanet that her clothing business suffered in recent years in part because tourism took a hit from government policies such as a travel ban on tourists.

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