Ramping Up Defenses: Alberta Boosts Fines to Combat Invasive Species in Waterways

Alberta's pristine waterways currently remain untouched by invasive zebra and quagga mussels that have devastated other regions. The proximity to Manitoba and Ontario, where these species thrive, poses a significant risk. These mussels could travel on watercraft entering our province, threatening both our environment and economy.

Expanding Threats: The danger is not limited to just zebra and quagga mussels. Other aquatic invaders also pose significant risks, capable of disrupting ecosystems and damaging infrastructure. This could lead to severe repercussions for Alberta's agriculture, tourism, and water management systems, ultimately impacting the livelihoods of many residents.

Proactive Measures: Alberta is responding by strengthening its defenses to protect our ecological and economic well-being.

A beautiful and serene Alberta mountain lake nestled in the forested rocky mountains

New Measures to Combat Invasive Species

Starting June 20, 2024, Alberta will enforce significantly higher fines to deter non-compliance at watercraft inspection stations. Fines for skipping an inspection station will increase from $324 to $4,200, and fines for not removing a bilge plug will rise from $180 to $600. These are set to be the highest fines of their kind in North America.

Role of Inspection Stations

Watercraft inspection stations are critical in our strategy to keep invasive species at bay. Located strategically throughout the province, these stations ensure that boats and other watercraft are free of invasive species. Trained inspectors thoroughly check that each watercraft is cleaned, drained, and dried before it enters Alberta waters.

Enhancing Public Awareness and Coordination

Alongside stricter enforcement measures, Alberta is rolling out a comprehensive public education campaign similar to the province's successful rat-free initiative. The campaign will raise awareness about the risks posed by aquatic invasive species and the importance of compliance with preventive measures. Additionally, the newly established Invasive Species Task Force will improve coordination across the province and with neighboring regions.

A close-up of zebra and quagga muscles, a danger to Alberta waters

Implications of Failing to Control Invasive Species

Invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels disrupt the natural food chain by depleting plankton and altering habitats, causing extensive ecological damage. Economically, they clog water intake systems and damage infrastructure, leading to increased maintenance costs. For instance, regions in the United States have incurred millions of dollars annually managing these invasions.

Governmental Perspective

Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz has highlighted the severe consequences of allowing even one contaminated boat into Alberta's waters, which could lead to massive ecological and financial damage. Recent inspection data reveals that despite rigorous controls, invasive mussels were detected in 19 out of 8,818 inspected boats last year, underscoring the persistent threat and the need for heightened vigilance.

A man sits in a lawn chair enjoying the view of an Albertan lake

Community and Individual Responsibilities

The effort to combat aquatic invasive species extends beyond government initiatives to the actions of individual citizens and communities.

Staying Informed and Engaged

Keeping informed about regulations and participating in community efforts like local cleanups and educational events are vital. By working together, we can protect the beauty and health of Alberta's lakes and rivers.

Preventive Steps for Watercraft Users

Before moving from one waterbody to another, it is crucial to follow the "clean, drain and dry" steps:

1. Clean

Start by thoroughly cleaning your watercraft and all related equipment. Remove all visible mud, plants, animals, and debris. This can be done at the water access area or dock. It’s also recommended to use hot tap water for rinsing, scrubbing, or pressure washing your boat and gear, ideally on dry land away from storm drains, ditches, and waterways to prevent any potential spread of invasive species.

2. Drain

Ensure that all water is drained from every part of your watercraft and any equipment that might hold water. This includes bait buckets, ballasts, bilges, coolers, and internal compartments. If you have a motorboat, remove the drain plug to drain the bilge and inspect the engine area to make sure all water is drained. For non-motorized watercraft, such as kayaks, invert or tilt them to ensure no water remains.

3. Dry

Dry all parts of your watercraft and equipment completely. Use towels, sponges, or air drying to ensure there is no moisture left, as many invasive species can survive in minimal amounts of water. The drying process is vital to eliminate any remaining microscopic invaders like mussel larvae.

These steps, when consistently applied, can significantly mitigate the risk of spreading aquatic invasive species. For more detailed guidelines and additional resources, visiting websites like the Alberta Invasive Species Council and the Canadian Council on Invasive Species would be beneficial. They provide extensive information and resources that can help in implementing these procedures effectively.

A boat is docked in a lake with the Alberta Rocky Mountains in the background

Together, we can protect the beautiful lakes and rivers of Alberta for future generations. Let’s all commit to being diligent stewards of our natural resources—keep them clean, keep them safe, and most importantly, keep them invasive-species free!

For more boating tips, tricks and info - check out our other posts: