SASKATOON -- Zebra mussels have been found in moss ball and algal products, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment says.

“Zebra mussels found in moss balls in Saskatchewan have been extremely small (size of grain of sand) and often found inside the moss ball itself, making it nearly impossible to detect simply by visual inspection,” the ministry said in a news release.

Zebra mussels, a prohibited aquatic invasive species, pose a serious threat to lakes and waterways in western Canada, the province says.

“They're very destructive. They can destroy both aquatic habitat as well as cause real problems for from water related infrastructure such as power generation and irrigation and other municipal water infrastructure,” said fisheries unit manager Matt Tyree.

They have been discovered in Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec and 34 states, including Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota.

“They have the ability to outcompete native fish and native wildlife, for both food and habitat. So, it can be quite detrimental to our fisheries in a lot of cases we're thinking mussels have been introduced.”

Saskatchewan is one of several provinces affected as the ornamental plant products have been sold across western Canada, the province says.

Pet store manager Tyler Ryder was taken by surprise as he only placed an order for the products last week and learned Thursday the order would be halted.

University of Regina Biology professor Chris Somers believes the province acted correctly. He says the invasive species can be static when first introduced into a new system before potentially exploding in numbers.

“All we can really do is be vigilant and the province does have surveillance programs in place for that. And I think that's the key now is just to keep all eyes and ears open for zebra mussels in Saskatchewan.”

The province is now asking people who purchased them after Jan. 1, 2021, to dispose of the products, which have now been removed from the supply chain.

For those who purchased the ornamental plant product the ministry says to take the following steps to treat and properly dispose of the moss/algal balls:

  1. Treat the moss/algal balls, by placing into a plastic bag, seal and freeze (preferably in a deep freezer) for at least 24 hours OR placing in boiling water for at least one minute and then let cool.
  2. Dispose of moss/algal balls by placing it and any of its packaging in a sealed plastic bag, and disposing of it in your household garbage.
  3. Treat aquarium contents and water. After removing the moss balls from an aquarium, do not dispose of untreated water down the drain or into any residential water system or waterway.

Aquarium/water garden contents like plants must not be flushed down the toilet or dumped down the drain. It’s asking people to dispose of the contents based on the size of the aquarium:

For bowls and small tanks:

  1. Remove fish or other living organisms from the aquarium and place them in another container, with water from a separate, uncontaminated water source.
  2. Sterilize the remaining contaminated water from the bowl or small tank by adding 25 ml of bleach per litre of water. Let the water sit for at least 15 minutes and then dispose of the sterilized water down a household drain.
  3. Clean the aquarium and accessories using one of the following methods, ensuring that the method you choose is in accordance with manufacturer's recommendations:
  • Boiling Method: Use water that is at least 60 degrees C/140 degrees F to flush and coat the tank and all accessory surfaces and allow to sit for a minimum of one minute;
  • Disinfection Method: Make a disinfection solution using 25 ml of bleach per litre of water. Soak the aquarium, substrate, rocks, d-cor, and filter media in the bleach water solution for 15 minutes. Rinse off all items before setting up the aquarium. Disinfect filter media being changed by soaking it in a bleach solution (25 ml of bleach per litre of water) for at least 15 minutes before sealing it in a plastic bag and disposing of it in your household trash. Use a dechlorinating product to neutralize any residual chlorine before reintroducing aquatic life.

For larger aquariums:

  1. For larger aquariums and aquariums where complete disinfection is not possible, monitor your tank for the next several months for any unusual or unexpected aquatic life.
  2. Treat water from all water changes during this period by adding 25 ml of bleach per litre of water that has been removed from the aquarium, and letting it sit for at least 15 minutes before disposing of the treated water down the drain.
  3. Disinfect filter media being changed by soaking it in a bleach solution (25 ml of bleach per litre of water) for at least 15 minutes before sealing it in a plastic bag and disposing of it in your household trash.