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Alberta Aims To Keep Aquatic Invasive Species Out By Bringing In Highest Fines In North America

Increased action to protect Alberta from aquatic invasive species has been announced by the provincial government.

According to a press release, this province is currently zebra and quagga mussel free. However, they can easily spread through boats and other watercraft travelling across borders. Harm to ecosystems, along with clogged waterways and infrastructure as well as the cost of damages are the fears should these species get established in Alberta and spread rapidly.

On Wednesday, June 12th it was announced in Calgary that starting on June 20th the fines for failing to stop with a trailered boat at an open inspection station in Alberta will increase from $324 dollars up to $4,200. The fine for failing to remove a bilge plug when transporting a watercraft on a roadway will jump from $180 dollars to $600. Having the highest fines in North America is part of the province’s plan to make sure boats are properly drained, inspected and invasive-species-free before entering Alberta.

Patrick Hannington, Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, says the mussels have two primarily life cycle stages that they would be interested in finding. He points out that the adult mussel is small but visible, about the size of maybe your finger nail, and it would be stuck to something. The larval stage of the mussel though is called a veliger and it is microscopic. Hannington says “So that can be transported in bilge water or other parts of your boat. So that is why the inspection stations will help clean the boats with steam or something like that to help make sure that those veliger larva, which are invisible to the naked eye are killed before they put the boat back in the water.”

Grant Hunter, Chair of the Invasive Species Task Force and the MLA for Taber-Warner, is also co-chair for the Canada Relations on the Council of State Governors West which is an opportunity to work with Alberta’s counterparts in the United States along with Saskatchewan and British Columbia. He will be bringing forward a motion at their next meeting in July in Oregon. Hunter says “To try to be able to coordinate the efforts ’cause the best way to be able to stop these from coming in, is to work with other jurisdictions to make sure we share data, share information. We could stop it in Montana, we could stop it in other places before it even gets here. So that’s where we’re going go next, this is what our task force is going to be working on as well.”

Rebecca Schulz, Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Protected Areas, highlights the fact that this province has been rat free for over 70 years and they are taking a similar approach against a new threat – invasive mussels. She says “Invasive mussels may be tiny, but of course their negative impacts are massive. Many years ago the rat control program ran posters urging all Albertans to keep ’em out. We are doing the same now with zebra and quagga mussels and all other aquatic invasive species that can do such massive damage to our province and we need help from all Albertans, and quite frankly, visitors to our amazing province. If you are going boating or using any watercraft outside of the province clean, drain, dry and inspect your machine before coming back home. It will save you money and keep Alberta zebra and mussel free.”

According to Schulz, the vast majority of boats that they see coming into Alberta that they have identified these invasive species generate typically in Ontario or Manitoba and are arriving through Saskatchewan. She says “There are a lot of legislators south of the border who are concerned, especially with what just happened recently in Idaho with just the massive issues that they were seeing there. It is hugely costly to address this as an issue after the fact and so prevention is really key. I know a lot of folks have been asking, even already, well these are quite significant fines but you know what there should be to deter people from driving in and not having their boat inspected because of the massive impact that this would have from a cost perspective in all of our major industries.”

Given the fact that these invasive species have already infiltrated waterways in Ontario and Manitoba, that is where Schulz says Alberta sees the biggest risk coming from. She says “We are, as I mentioned, increasing our inspection stations this year from four to seven in different areas across the province. We’re also expanding the times in which these inspection stations are open and then adding a roving inspection station to help wherever it’s most needed and so we are stepping up our defenses.”

Data provided by the provincial government shows that last year (2023), Alberta inspected over 8,800 boats and 19 wound up being confirmed positive for invasive mussels.

17 of those boats came from Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba while two were coming from Michigan and Minnesota.

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