A Canadian Action Plan to Address the Threat of Aquatic Invasive Species
Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers Aquatic Invasive Species Task Group

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Executive Summary

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) have been entering Canadian waters for centuries but never as rapidly as today. Every decade, some 15 alien species establish themselves in our coastal or inland waters and, in the absence of their natural predators, the most aggressive of them spread rapidly. They can radically alter habitat, rendering it inhospitable for native species.

Invading species have been implicated in both the vast reductions in, or outright extinction of, indigenous fish and the resulting devastation of local fisheries. Some invasives, such as the zebra mussel, do millions of dollars in damage annually to human infrastructure. In addition to damage to the environment, in total, invasive species cost billions of dollars every year due to lost revenue and the implementation of control measures. With more species poised to enter the country, these costs will only rise.

Canada has 20 per cent of the world's fresh water and one of the longest coastlines, thereby placing it at high risk from AIS. As a result of insufficient awareness of the nature and size of the threat, there have been limited levels of compliance with practices and regulations designed to minimize the damage.

World leaders officially recognized the threat posed by invasive species in 1992, with the adoption of the UN Convention on Biodiversity. Canada responded in 1995 with the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy. In September 2001, federal, provincial and territorial ministers of forests, fisheries and aquaculture, endangered species and wildlife agreed to develop a Canadian plan to deal with the threat of invasive alien species. In 2002, they approved a blueprint for the plan. Also in 2002, the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers created the Aquatic Invasive Species Task Group to develop an action plan to address the threat of aquatic invasive species.

The most effective approach to dealing with the hundreds of species that are (or could become) established in Canada involves managing the pathways through which invasive species enter and spread through Canadian waters. For aquatic species, these pathways are shipping, recreational and commercial boating, the use of live bait, the aquarium/ water garden trade, live food fish, unauthorized introductions and transfers, and canals and water diversions. This plan does not address authorized introductions such as aquaculture or fish stocking, as they are covered by the National Code on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms.

The shipping pathway is considered the largest single source of new aquatic invasive species. Ballast water that is taken on in foreign ports, for ship stability and safety at sea, is discharged in Canadian waters, along with undesirable "hitchhikers" – foreign species ranging from bacteria to larger organisms. While other pathways can also be a source of new species, they generally serve to spread species that have already established themselves in Canada and other parts of North America.

Efforts to resolve AIS problems raise a wide variety of issues. Any given species may affect the environment, trade, shipping, recreational use of waterways, fishing, resource management, human health and more. Numerous jurisdictions, from the local to the international level, play a role in prevention, monitoring and management activities, as do industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Aboriginal peoples and other stakeholders. The magnitude and nature of the problem, and the priorities for action, vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

In many cases, appropriate legislation and regulations exist to combat invasive species but they have not always been adequately used. Actions have been taken to respond to specific threats but concerted and coordinated efforts are only in their early stages.

The ultimate goal of this plan is to minimize (and ideally eliminate) the introduction of harmful AIS and remediate the impact of those already in Canada. The plan's underlying principles include incorporating environmental, economic, and social factors in decision making; working cooperatively with all stakeholders; and using science-based techniques to assess the risk of aquatic invasive species.

Prevention of harmful new invasions is the first priority, as it is the most cost-effective way to deal with the problem. Once species are established, the task becomes far more complex and costly. The tools used to manage AIS must be carefully analyzed in terms of their effectiveness, how they affect the rest of the ecosystem, their cost, and so on.

While some of the tools used to prevent and control harmful introductions vary between pathways, most of them apply across pathways, between jurisdictions, and to a range of species and ecosystems. In this plan, management actions have been organized into four broad categories: legislation, regulation and compliance; risk management; engaging Canadians; and science.

Given the size of the problem and the limitations on human and financial resources, priorities for implementation must be assessed carefully. Some results can be achieved using existing resources but the urgency and magnitude of the threat suggests the need for new investment. While the federal, provincial and territorial governments bear overall responsibility for putting this plan into action, partnerships with industry, Aboriginal peoples, NGOs and all other stakeholders are imperative for its success.

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