Tuesday, 11 October 2016 08:00

Alberta has an intensive aquatic invasive species program

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Common goldfish have become quite a problem in the province as people decide to dispose of these pets down storm drains or storm collection ponds. They can grow very large and adapt well to their new environment causing all kinds of problems. Common goldfish have become quite a problem in the province as people decide to dispose of these pets down storm drains or storm collection ponds. They can grow very large and adapt well to their new environment causing all kinds of problems. Photo by Rose Sanchez

What was once an almost non-existent program in Alberta, has now become a leader in Canada.


Members of the Grasslands Naturalists in Medicine Hat had a chance to learn more about Alberta’s Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Program at their meeting Sept. 27 when Tanya Rushcall, aquatic invasive species technician with the Fish and Wildlife Policy Branch of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, spoke.
“With aquatic invasive species, primarily the route of introduction is mainly large cargo ships,” said Rushcall.
These cargo ships fill their ballast tanks with water wherever they are leaving from, so they can be balanced. Then when they get to their destination, they dump this water, in preparation to load cargo.
“From a provincial perspective, this is not one we can tackle. We’re interested in secondary forms of introduction,” she added.
That includes how these species move from one province to another, or from one country to another country. A big way that happens is boat travel.
“Recreational boat travel is a huge vector and one we’re concerned about.”
Another secondary form of spread is intentional release. An example of this is the problem with goldfish being released into storm water ponds, which ultimately are always connected to natural flowing waterbodies. Another is Prussian carp, which are usually released for cultural reasons.
One of the species, officials have been focused on is zebra and quagga mussels. They can spread rapidly and will clog water infrastructure in a short amount of time. The larva are microscopic and females can lay one million eggs at once.
Economists have studied the potential costs of an infestation in Alberta, and it would be about $75 million per year as everything from power generation and drinking water systems, to recreational fishing and property values could be affected.
The Alberta government has invested heavily in attempting to keep these mussels out of the province  and built up the AIS program, which started as a pilot project in 2013 and became province-wide the following year.
Legislation changes in 2015 added a list of 52 species which are prohibited from importing or owning in Alberta and it made it mandatory for people hauling boats to stop at inspection stations set up near Alberta’s borders. There are inspection stations near Dunmore, in the southeast corner, Coutts in south-central Alberta and Burmis in southwest Alberta which operate from May to the end of October.
Rushcall pointed out all watercraft need to be inspected, including those people who are transporting canoes and kayaks. Not stopping can result in a fine.
This year additional regulations came into effect around the drain plug rule. When boats are transported in Alberta on any road, the drain plug has to be pulled. There is now also mandatory reporting of aquatic invasive species by phoning the hotline at 1-855-336-BOAT (2628).
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Good news for members of the AIS program team trying to lead the fight against invasive species, is more power to use chemical or angling methods to control or eliminate populations of species of concern. For example, with a licence, Prussian carp is an unrestricted species, meaning if it is caught it just has to be killed and people can catch as many as they want.
“We also do education and outreach which is a more important aspect of the program,” said Rushcall.
Those education campaigns include the Clean, Dry, Drain your Boat and Don’t Let It Loose, which was targeting intentional release of AIS.
Monitoring is also a huge component with about 60 waterbodies inspected this year. An interactive map at EDDMapsAB, which was just launched this year, shows where AIS have been located.
There are a few provinces and states which Alberta officials consider to be “friendly” as they either have no mussel infestations or their own rigorous AIS programs. While Saskatchewan doesn’t have the invasive mussels, it isn’t considered friendly to Alberta because there isn’t much of a monitoring program in place, pointed out Rushcall.
This year through the boat inspection program, 13 contaminated boats were found with about 18,500 boats inspected to the end of September.
“It’s not a lot, but it really only takes one,” points out Rushcall.
AIS program officials are working on developing early detection rapid response plans to put into action if invasive mussels are found in an Alberta waterbody. Currently, the only plan of attack is to quarantine that waterbody.
These plans are also being put in place for other invasive species.
Rushcall said the program has seen success thanks to many partnerships.
“A lot so far has come from partnerships such as extra funding and facilities to do training,” she added. “We’ve had some great support throughout the province.”

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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