If you're trying to buy fish from a Vancouver pet store right now, you might be out of luck. The culprit - tiny mollusks the size of your fingernail.
Invasive zebra mussels are to blame, as they can sometimes hitch a ride on decorative aquarium moss balls often sold by pet stores.
According to the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, "Zebra mussels pose a major threat if released into a B.C. waterway. The tiny mussels can wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems, salmon populations, hydro power stations, and other facilities because they multiply rapidly and are extremely difficult to eradicate."
Conservation officers have contacted over 1,100 retail aquatic pet and plant stores and found the mussels in moss balls across the province, including Metro Vancouver, Terrace, Invermere, Kamloops, and Vancouver Island.
While some major pet store chains have temporarily suspended selling fish, Noah's Pet Ark on West Broadway has been able to deal with the issue while keeping fish sales open to the public.
"We have individual tanks; they're not linked together. Theoretically, if you connect all your tanks and have one filter it looks like it might be less work; but if there's a disease issue with fish, it's contained into one tank. That certainly has created a little isolation for the moss ball issue in our store," says owner Graham White.
The provincial government is asking the public to check home aquariums for the tiny mussels that may be attached to moss balls.
Nearly 3,000 moss balls have recently been seized or surrendered to conservation officers.
--With files from Valerie Leung