What are Aquatic Invasive Species?
Invasive species are plants or animals that are not native to a specific location, but once introduced, they have a tendency to spread and create ecosystem imbalance. Some aquatic invasive species are threatening to invade Alberta waters, with the potential to cause major damage to the environment and our economy. The species of greatest concern in Alberta currently are two breeds of Dreissenid mussel: the Quagga Mussel, and the Zebra Mussel, and one breed of plant: Eurasian Water Milfoil. The province’s aquatic invasive species program focuses on all aquatic invasive plants, fish and invertebrates.
Why is it important to combat the invasion?
Dreissenid mussels originated in the Black Sea region and have spread throughout many parts of the world by colonizing boats that travel between different regions. Zebra mussels first appeared in the Great Lakes in 1988 and have become a constant problem for affected provinces and municipalities. Currently, Dreissenid mussels have spread as far as Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba and threaten to spread further into Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Negative impacts of Dreissenid mussel invasions include:
- Attaching to infrastructure such as water supply pipes, irrigation pipes, or hydroelectric plants, causing serious damage and clogging
- Destroying ecosystems by filtering food sources such as plankton out of the water
- Increasing toxic algal blooms that impact both fish and wildlife ecosystems, and tourism
- Impacting recreational activities by cutting swimmers’ feet as a result of their sharp shells
If Dreissenid mussels were to invade Alberta, municipalities would begin to face major economic pressures to deal with the impact of the species on local water infrastructure. Ontario municipalities already affected by the mussels have reported costs as high as $3 million per water plant to combat them.
Photo source: Government of Alberta
Photo Source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
In addition to Dreissenid mussels, Eurasian Water Milfoil is threatening water bodies in Alberta. Water milfoil is an aquatic, submersed herb that forms large, floating mats, preventing light penetration into water bodies, shading out native plants and reducing oxygen levels in the water. It was introduced to North America in the 19th century and is now one of the most widely distributed aquatic invasive plants on the continent.
Eurasian Water Milfoil has a number of impacts, including reducing biodiversity, killing fish due to reduced oxygen, and hindering recreational activities such as swimming, boating and fishing. In addition, dense patches of the plant can cause stagnant water that is an ideal breeding environment for mosquitoes.
AUMA Policy on Aquatic Invasive Species
At the 2014 AUMA Convention, members resolved to urge the provincial government to enact mandatory inspections to ensure that Dreissenid mussel aquatic invasive species do not invade Alberta, and further resolved to urge the funding of an awareness campaign on the risk of the species entering the province and preventative measures boaters must take to eliminate the risk.
The province acted on our recommendations by adopting the Fisheries Amendment Act, which provides for mandatory inspections of boats and watercraft that are transported into our province. The amendments give law enforcement officials greater authority in dealing with contaminated watercraft. The Bill also includes a prohibited species list, which will restrict the sale and possession of invasive invertebrates, plants and fish. These amendments, along with existing monitoring and public awareness campaigns, will reduce Alberta’s vulnerability to an infestation of mussels and other invasive species, which would have severe and far-reaching recreational, environmental and economic impacts.
In addition, the Government of Alberta, along with several western provinces and the Yukon Territory, is working to enhance regional coordination in keeping western Canada mussel free. Alberta also has a close working relationship with neighbouring states and has used their approach to prevention as a model for action.
Until recently, the Government of Saskatchewan was the only jurisdiction in the region that has not established regular inspection stations. Therefore, at the request of AUMA and AAMDC, the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) and Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) advocated that the Government of Saskatchewan establish mandatory inspection stations and increased monitoring for invasive mussels in time for the summer 2016 boating season. In response, the Government of Saskatchewan has proclaimed May 8 to 14, 2016 to be AIS Awareness Week and has announced it will increase watercraft inspections at the Manitoba and US border and at high-risk water bodies such as those with watercraft events.
Webinar on AIS
Representatives of SUMA and SARM participated in AUMA’s April 2016 webinar, which featured an update from the Government of Alberta on its AIS program and how municipalities can support AIS prevention. Watch a recording of the webinar.
Resources and examples of aquatic invasive species management
Alberta Invasive Species Council – Has created a series of fact sheets for the invasive species present in Alberta.
Alberta Parks - Has created an informational website that gives an overview of aquatic invasive species (AIS) in the province. There is also information on the Clean, Drain, Dry campaign and Don’t Let it Loose Campaign aimed at educating the public and preventing the spread of invasive species.