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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Table of Contents

Strategic Direction

Underlying principles

The ultimate goal of any invasive species plan must be to minimize (and ideally eliminate) both the introduction of new AIS and the spread and impact of those already present in Canada. This includes prevention of unwanted introductions, early detection of potential invaders, rapid response to prevent establishment, and management to contain AIS that have already become established.

The basis for a Canadian plan requires a long-term approach that recognizes the relationship between a healthy environment and a sustainable economy. For many jurisdictions, the trade in live organisms is important to their economies. Governments recognize that consumer demands can be met while addressing concerns over transfer of organisms, and meeting requirements under trade agreements (WTO, NAFTA).

The National Code on the Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms addresses this issue. The Code provides science-based principles to be used by governments in management decisions around the intentional introductions and transfers of aquatic organisms for aquaculture, fish stocking, and scientific research. The Aquatic Organisms Risk Assessment Protocol may be used to analyze the effects of introducing or transferring aquatic species and to examine measures to minimize harmful consequences before movement occurs. This document supports the Code and promotes consideration of social, economic, and environmental issues associated with unintentional and accidental introductions.

The underlying principles of this Canadian plan include:

  1. Working within existing domestic and international legislation and agreements to develop a compatible Canadian AIS strategy;
  2. Developing a strategy that is science-based and utilizes the best available knowledge;
  3. Adopting an adaptive management approach that incorporates and continually improves on policies and practices by learning from the outcomes of operational programs;
  4. Working cooperatively with all levels of government, industry, NGOs, and other stakeholders within Canada and internationally;
  5. Engaging the public and encouraging universal stewardship;
  6. Respecting Aboriginal and treaty rights through consultation and inclusion in decision-making processes;
  7. Ensuring traditional and other sources of knowledge are integrated into strategies to address the threat of invasive alien species;
  8. Taking as many factors as possible into consideration, including environmental, social, economic, cultural and human health, while recognizing regional interests and priorities;
  9. Ensuring the important social and economic role of trade in live organisms in Canada is maintained and international trade agreements are respected, while preventing invasions;
  10. Taking a precautionary approach that assumes new species pose a risk and identifies rapid response actions to prevent AIS movements into Canada; and
  11. Adopting an ecosystem/bio-geographical approach, recognizing the fact that the issue of aquatic invasive species transcends jurisdictional boundaries.

Strategic goals

The task group, in consultation with stakeholders, identified a number of key areas where action may prove effective in limiting the introduction and spread of alien species. The first step was identifying the specific pathways by which organisms enter and spread through Canadian waters and then developing tools to prevent their introduction or to control them.

Since first being discovered in Lake St. Clair in the mid-1980s, the zebra mussel has become one of the most notorious invaders of Canadian waters. Originally from the Black and Caspian Sea area, it has spread throughout the Great Lakes and beyond. In addition to habitat changes and threats to native species, these invaders cause significant damage to human infrastructure by fouling water intake pipes or attaching themselves to other structures. Because they are so firmly established over such a wide area, little can be done to effectively control them. In western Canada, where zebra mussels have not established, the most effective control is prevention of introduction.

By far the most effective way of controlling invasive species is to prevent their entry into Canada in the first place. This proactive approach will avoid increasing the existing burden of controlling species that have already established themselves, the cost of which is already many millions of dollars. Prevention efforts should address imports, exports and the movement of species within Canada. Specific activities include border control, inspection, enforcement, education and communication, risk analysis, and information management.

For species that have already been introduced, the focus turns to eradication, controlling their spread, or adaptive management. While early detection is possible for some species, the lag time between introduction and establishment is often measured in years or even decades. Regardless of when a new species is discovered, the Canadian plan must be able to respond quickly. A rapid response plan assesses all aspects of the introduction, including the potential for successful eradication or control.

Once a species becomes established, the task becomes much more challenging. Damage to local ecosystems may already have occurred such that complete eradication may no longer be feasible. Any control measures must be subject to comprehensive analyses in terms of their potential harmful effects on other species or the ecosystem as a whole.

The level of intervention should correspond proportionally to the level of threat. Control measures are currently hampered by inadequate resources, lack of coordination, and the absence of suitable control tools or the authority to use them.

Any management activities intended to eliminate invasive species must include a restoration component. A damaged ecosystem will not always be able to regenerate itself to its previous state and is more susceptible to subsequent invasion. This may involve taking an active approach in terms of encouraging native species to thrive. The healthier an ecosystem is, the more capable it is of resisting invasions.

Basic approach

The development of the Canadian plan started with the key pathways that have been identified as significant sources of aquatic invasive species. Each of those pathways offers opportunities for immediate and longer term actions. While some actions are highly specific (applying to a single species in a certain area), many of them apply across all pathways, jurisdictions, species, and ecosystems. Education efforts, for example, are effective tools to prevent species from entering Canadian waters whether through shipping, recreational boating, or the aquarium trade.

A workable plan must include ways to determine jurisdictional priorities. Some species, even though they have become established, are not aggressive enough to be considered a serious invasive threat. Others multiply rapidly and do serious damage to habitat, native species, or economic activity. The criteria for assessing priorities include such factors as the degree of potential damage to the ecosystem, the value of the harm done to the economy, and the costs of control measures.

Flexibility is another key ingredient. The Canadian plan must allow for differences in the way priorities are dealt with at the regional level. All stakeholders must share in the development of the plan and act as partners in implementing it.

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