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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Introduction

The movement of species, ranging in size from microscopic organisms such as viruses or bacteria to plants to large animals, has always been part of life on Earth. Some of it happens naturally through migration patterns, weather and other factors. Humans, however, have been responsible for extensive artificial movement of large numbers of species for some time, due to their economic and social activities throughout the world. In recent years, technological advancements and increases in world trade have led to even more intentional and unintentional movement of species to habitats where they are not native, sometimes with disastrous results.

While there are times when the intentional introduction of alien species improves quality of life (such as food production or biocontrol), the misuse of alien species has caused serious ecological and economic harm. When alien species become established in a new habitat, they can disrupt the existing balance of that ecosystem. In some cases, the new species takes over, causing radical and irreversible changes to its new environment. When this occurs, the species is defined as invasive.

Some invaders, such as the infamous zebra mussel, can damage human infrastructure at costs in excess of millions of dollars per year. Invasive alien species pose threats to the economy, local ecology, and human health. In Canada, conservative estimates place the combined economic losses and direct costs associated with the 16 species for which published information is available at $5.5 billion. A US report estimates the annual economic burden of invasive species in that country at $137 billion. The World Conservation Union rates invasive alien species as the second worst threat to biodiversity after habitat loss.

World leaders have recognized the threat posed by invasive alien species since 1992, when they agreed on the UN Convention on Biodiversity. In response, Canada developed the 1995 Canadian Biodiversity Strategy, which recognized the need to conserve biodiversity and promote the sustainable use of biological resources through increased understanding, legislation, incentives and other means. In it, the federal, provincial and territorial governments expressed a commitment to take all necessary steps to prevent the introduction of harmful alien species and eliminate or reduce their effects on ecosystems.

In September 2001, federal, provincial and territorial ministers of forests, fisheries and aquaculture, endangered species and wildlife identified invasive alien species as a priority, calling for the development of a Canadian plan to deal with the threat. Later that year, a national workshop brought together numerous stakeholders to determine the basic approach and underlying principles for the Canadian plan.

A blueprint for the Canadian plan was approved at the Ministers' meeting in September 2002. The Ministers also created specific working groups to cover issues related to aquatic species, terrestrial animals, terrestrial plants, and leadership and coordination.

Operating under the auspices of the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers (CCFAM), the Aquatic Invasive Species Task Group was directed to develop the Canadian action plan for aquatic invasive species. The task group includes representatives from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, every province and territory, as well as special advisors from Transport Canada, Environment Canada and the Department of National Defense.

In addition to consultations with a wide range of key stakeholders, the development of this plan involved reviewing numerous reports and other documents for appropriate recommendations and actions.

Introductions of new species can take place deliberately or accidentally and can be authorized or unauthorized (illegal). This plan only covers unauthorized introductions. There are procedures already in place under the National Code on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms (see text box) which govern authorized introductions. Deliberate introductions can be made for such purposes as aquaculture, increasing fish stocks, biocontrol, or filling perceived gaps in certain aquatic communities. Recognizing that there are social and economic benefits derived from fish stocking and culture, the Code addresses the concerns around transfers for these purposes by providing a standard risk assessment procedure that can be applied across all jurisdictions.

The National Code on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms was developed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and each Canadian province and territory at the request of the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers. The Code sets out standards for assessing introductions and transfers, including a risk assessment process that can be applied to introductions and transfers of new aquatic organisms between and within regions and jurisdictions. Each Canadian jurisdiction applies the code through a provincial Introductions and Transfers Committee. Ministers from all jurisdictions signed the code in 2001 to indicate support for its use across the country. The Code can be accessed here.

Rather than dealing individually with the hundreds of unwanted species that are (or could become) established in Canada, the most effective approach involves managing the pathways or vectors through which AIS either enter Canadian waters or spread within the country. In consultation with stakeholders, the task group identified seven key pathways: 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. Each of these is explored in greater detail later in this document.

A glossary of the terms used in the plan can be found at the end of this document.

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