Archived - Government Response to the 4th Report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans - Aquatic Invasive Species: Uninvited Guests

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Preamble

The Government of Canada would like to thank the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (SCOFO) for its report entitled Aquatic Invasive Species: Uninvited Guests. The Government of Canada has reviewed the recommendations contained in this report and has provided responses to each recommendation. SCOFO’s recommendations are timely and pertinent, and echo the Government’s feeling that aquatic invasive species are a significant threat to Canada’s aquatic resources. Although the Committee’s report focuses on the Great Lakes, the Government response considers the full national scope of aquatic invasive species. This approach will best illustrate the Government’s response to the threat of aquatic invasive species.

The Government of Canada recognizes that aquatic invasive species are a threat to Canada’s environment, economy and society. Canada’s natural resources are fundamental to our economic stability, and protecting and conserving our aquatic resources is essential to ensure sustainable development.

The Government of Canada, in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, is responding to the threat of invasive alien species. In September 2001, federal, provincial, and territorial Ministers for Wildlife, Forests, and Fisheries and Aquaculture identified invasive alien species as a priority under the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy. Specifically, this joint meeting of resource Ministers’ councils called for the development of a draft plan to address the threat of invasive alien species by the fall of 2002. In September 2002, Ministers approved a "blueprint" for a national plan, and further requested the establishment of four thematic working groups to advance the "blueprint": aquatic invasive species, terrestrial animals, terrestrial plants, and leadership and coordination.

The Government of Canada and the provinces and territories are coordinating their efforts to respond to the challenge of aquatic invasive species. Environment Canada (EC) is leading the development of a draft National Plan on Invasive Alien Species on behalf of the Government of Canada. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources co-chair the Task Group on Aquatic Invasive Species under the auspices of the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers (CCFAM). The Task Group includes representatives of all provinces and territories, as well as EC and Transport Canada (TC), and it is mandated to develop the aquatic invasive species portion of the National Plan on Invasive Alien Species. It has identified the primary routes of entry and spread of aquatic invasive species in Canadian waters, and it will identify vulnerable ecosystems, conduct risk assessments, and recommend specific actions that can be taken by the various jurisdictions. It is anticipated that the draft national plan to address the threat of invasive alien species will be presented to the joint meeting of resource Ministers’ councils for their consideration and approval in September 2004.

TC is responsible for regulating shipping in Canada and has been working collaboratively with other federal departments, the shipping industry and international agencies, such as the International Maritime Organization, to develop regulations regarding controls for ballast water discharges from ships. International regulations are expected to be put in place in 2004 and will be incorporated into Canadian regulations at that time.

In addition to coordinating its efforts to address the threat of aquatic invasive species, the Government of Canada also recognizes that early action is needed to respond to priorities. As outlined in the following responses to the Standing Committee’s recommendations, the Government of Canada is already working to address several aquatic invasive species issues, including the development of international ballast water exchange regulations. In addition, the Government of Canada is committed to discussions with the United States to assess options for enhanced binational coordination. The recent creation of an Invasion Biology Research Chair on aquatic invasive species will bolster Canada’s commitment to research on this important issue. In response to this report, the Government will perform a risk assessment, to determine the threat posed by the four species of Asian carp. If the assessments show a significant risk, the Government will initiate the process to list the species under Schedule II of the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA) in order to prevent the importation of those species in a live state into Canada.

The Government will move forward with these and other initiatives to conserve and protect Canada’s aquatic resources for the benefit of present and future generations of Canadians.

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that the federal government designate the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans as the minister responsible for coordinating federal actions relating to aquatic invasive species. These actions should include:

Recommendation 1A

Government Response

The Government of Canada recognizes the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans’ leadership role in the management of aquatic invasive species, in collaboration with his Ministerial colleagues. The Government of Canada acknowledges the importance of coordinating federal actions and believes that sufficient political structures and policy making and program delivery systems are already in place to coordinate this complex file.

The Cabinet Committee for the Economic Union already has the appropriate Ministerial representation to consider, prioritize and act on recommendations for horizontal policy issues involving invasive alien species, including aquatic invasives.

EC is coordinating efforts to develop the National Plan on Invasive Alien Species under the auspices of the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy. DFO and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources co-chair the Task Group on Aquatic Invasive Species under the auspices of the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers (CCFAM). At a departmental level, the Assistant Deputy Ministers Sub-Committee on Nature, under the Environment and Sustainable Development Coordinating Committee of Deputy Ministers, regularly considers invasive alien species on the agenda, for development of policy proposals as part of the broader exercise to develop a national plan to address the threat of invasive alien species. The work of the Sub-committee is supported by the federal Directors’ General Interdepartmental Committee on Invasive Alien Species, and by federal-provincial-territorial thematic working groups.

The listed committees will take the recommendations of the SCOFO report into consideration in their future discussions, and will strive to ensure that Government actions are well coordinated across all departments involved in the prevention and control of aquatic invasive species.

Recommendation 1B

Government Response

The Government agrees with the intent of this recommendation. EC, with input from other federal departments, is preparing an inventory of all federal Acts, regulations, policies and programs applicable to the management of invasive alien species in Canada. Once this exercise is complete, the information will facilitate a gap analysis to assess options for developing a coordinated legislative, policy, and program framework on invasive alien species. It is anticipated that a legislative, policy, and program framework on aquatic invasive species will be included in the National Plan to address invasive alien species.

Recommendation 1C

Government Response

The Government agrees with the intent of this recommendation and recognizes the critical importance of ballast water as a source of aquatic invasive species introductions. The Government is committed to addressing the significant technological, economic and political challenges to reducing the risks presented by ballast water. Ballast water regulations are being drafted and are expected to be made under the Canada Shipping Act in 2004. Regulations will be based on best management practices that are compatible with United States’ regulations for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River systems.

The reporting requirements of the current voluntary "Guidelines For The Control Of Ballast Water Discharge From Ships In Waters Under Canadian Jurisdiction" will become mandatory under the regulations, to facilitate compliance and enforcement. Ballast water management practices will be developed for application to ships declaring "no ballast on board" (NOBOB) for inclusion in the ballast water regulations when ongoing research in this area has been completed and suitable practices are better defined.

In a 2002 project conducted for TC, Geographic Information System technology was used to analyze and map information on reported ballast water exchanges for ships transiting to Atlantic Canada. This pilot project using historical data identified many advantages over simply collecting tabular reports, and is being considered for further development using real-time data.

TC is currently working to develop a Green Ship program, which could include recognition of improved ballast water management practices as one of many factors to be considered.

Recommendation 1D

Government Response

The Government agrees with the intent of the recommendation, but believes that greater effort should be focused on prevention of introductions, because global experience indicates that the eradication of aquatic invasive species after introduction is extremely difficult.

Although Environmental Emergency Teams (EET) exist across the country to respond to oil and chemical spills, invasive species are not as readily detected and are difficult to eradicate. A system based on the EET model could be used once a species or incident is detected and this could facilitate a rapid response, based on the degree of risk. Vulnerable areas would need to be identified and pathways monitored. Federal and provincial governments plus stakeholders would be involved, as they are now, through industry groups.

Recommendation 1E

Government Response

The Government agrees with the intent of this recommendation. Efforts to prevent future introductions will be a principal focus of the Government’s approach to invasive species.

As part of this effort, an inventory of aquatic invasive species in Canada will be developed. This initiative will be based on existing inventories that are available in formats such as published research papers and conference proceedings, and will be made available through a web site for public use.

The Task Group on Aquatic Invasive Species under the CCFAM is addressing priority pathways and species that threaten Canadian aquatic ecosystems. Seven priority pathways have been identified:

The Task Group has undertaken an analysis of each pathway to identify risks, current initiatives, and recommended priorities for action. The Task Group is currently working to engage further expert input from non-government organizations (NGOs) into each pathway analysis, recognizing that NGOs will play an important role in managing these pathway risks.

Recommendation 1F

Government Response

The Government agrees with this recommendation, and will continue to work with the provinces and territories through cooperative development and implementation of the aquatic invasive species component of the National Plan on Invasive Alien Species.

The CCFAM Task Group on Aquatic Invasive Species includes representatives from each of the provinces and territories, either actively or as corresponding members. It is expected that provinces and territories will contribute to the implementation of the aquatic invasive species action plan in accordance with the priorities of their jurisdiction.

Recommendation 1G

Government Response

The Government agrees with the intent of this recommendation, but believes that ecological surveys are not the most effective way to detect aquatic invasive species. While ecological surveys could be used to detect aquatic invasive species and monitor invasion rates, they are not a cost effective approach to detection. Considering the enormous size of the Canadian water resource, ecological surveys designed for the detection of new species would have to be extremely comprehensive and the probability of detection would still be very low . A variety of sampling programs are regularly conducted by DFO, EC, and many provincial and municipal counterparts, for purposes other than the detection of new invasive species. These include fish samples for determining stock levels, invertebrate assessments for toxic chemical studies, and many more. There is no question that if new species were identified during these surveys, this information would be used for monitoring invasions, but the likelihood of finding new invasive species during a survey is very low. A more effective way to detect and monitor invasive species will be to develop a public awareness and reporting program as part of the National Plan. A large number of invasive species have been discovered when water resource users have requested assistance to identify species they had never seen in the past.

Recommendation 1H

Government Response

The Government agrees with this recommendation. In addition to the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which contain provisions binding on the Federal Crown to ensure that proposed prevention and control techniques do not cause environmental harm, the Pest Control Products Act requires the review of pest control products to ensure that their use does not cause environmental harm.

Recommendation 1I

Government Response

The Government agrees with this recommendation and is working with its provincial and territorial partners to enhance public awareness, education and outreach programs. The CCFAM Task Group on Aquatic Invasive Species has also acknowledged the importance of developing and supporting education and outreach programs to increase awareness about the risk of spread from recreational boating and aquaria. The Task Group has identified the need for a national communications plan to develop common messages, products and partnerships. As well, the Task Group recognizes that non-government organizations and industry must be part of the solution. The Task Group is currently considering mechanisms to involve partners in the development and implementation of communication materials and education and awareness programs across Canada.

Federal departments are already conducting outreach programs. For example, DFO maintains websites in the Pacific and Atlantic regions to educate the public on the risks of spreading aquatic invasive species. DFO, in partnership with provincial agencies, has produced brochures and posters that identify invasive species and what to do if they are found. Telephone hotlines are also available in DFO regions to report observations of invasive species.

DFO is working with community groups (e.g., the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Coalition) to encourage and reinforce good management practices for fishers and recreational boaters, to enhance awareness of the issue among the local stakeholders, and to provide an "early warning system."

Other examples of DFO stewardship programs include the Reef Keepers and Shore Keepers Programs in British Columbia. Under these Programs, volunteers conduct scuba diving and beach surveys to identify natural and alien species. A website and a database are maintained, as well as education programs, such as the Junior Shore Keepers program, in local schools.

Canadian Coast Guard Notices to Mariners are available to boaters on the Coast Guard national website. These notices delineate problem areas for pick-up and discharge of ballast water (e.g., water containing certain phytoplankton).

Recommendation 1J

Government Response

The Government agrees with this recommendation and is conducting scientific research on aquatic invasive species in Canadian waters, in cooperation with provincial and territorial partners.

DFO conducts scientific studies on the pathways of invasive species entering Canada’s fresh and marine waters, their spread once established, and their effects on fisheries. DFO has also recently created an Invasion Biology Research Chair, in order to further research into the vectors and impacts of aquatic species invasions. This research will help to increase scientific knowledge related to the environmental impacts of invasive species and effective ways to prevent new introductions and control the spread of existing species.

TC has been involved in and supported several projects on alternative shipboard prevention and control technologies for ballast water management. In 1992, TC conducted a study into possible alternatives to ballast water exchange and since then has been involved in projects dealing with various forms of filtration and biocides. Currently, TC is involved in a project that will address testing with sediments, temperature, disinfection byproducts, and the design of a ship-board system to effectively control biocide additives.

Recommendation 1K

Government Response

The Government agrees with the intent of this recommendation. However, prevention, control and research require the joint efforts and resources of a variety of stakeholders: federal, provincial and territorial governments; industry; academia; non-governmental organizations; and citizens. In addition, greater effort should be focused on prevention, rather than rapid response to introductions.

In 2002-03, DFO spent upwards of $1.5 million and 15 full-time equivalent positions on research on aquatic invasive species. The Department’s ongoing research effort is distributed among DFO regions, and studies are conducted in both freshwater and marine ecosystems. Research is being directed towards high priority issues, such as effects on Great Lakes and marine fisheries.

DFO is currently conducting a departmental assessment and alignment exercise where all programs, including research, are being examined. Through this process, DFO is also responding to the federal government’s commitment to review programs on an ongoing basis and to reallocate resources from lower to higher priorities. The exercise will provide the Department with an opportunity to determine which priorities need to be funded.

Other federal departments and agencies are also contributing to research on aquatic invasive species. For example, the National Research Council, through the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), is providing advice, science linkages and funding to projects dealing with current invasive species on the East Coast. IRAP has supported trials to find ways to prevent invading tunicates and is working with aquaculture associations to reduce the impact of tunicates on mussel aquaculture. It has also supported trials to find a commercial use for green crab.

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that Canada seek a permanent reference to the International Joint Commission to coordinate and harmonize binational efforts for action to counter the threat of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes basin.

Government Response

The Government values the role played by the IJC in identifying and communicating the threat posed by invasive species in the Great Lakes. Canada remains committed to pursuing a coordinated binational approach to address invasive species in the Great Lakes. Binational efforts can benefit from additional input and support from the IJC, and Canada welcomes continuation of this dialogue.

Canada supports further discussions with the Government of the United States to assess options for enhanced binational coordination. Canada believes that coordination activities should continue to focus on actions to address the management of ship ballast water as a priority pathway of invasion in the Great Lakes and other ecosystems.

The Government also supports additional discussions with the IJC and the United States on the scope of a potential reference to the IJC on invasive species and we look forward to commencing this dialogue.

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends that in order to evaluate the federal government’s progress towards its commitment on aquatic invasive species issues, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans submit an interim report to Parliament within six months of being designated, and that this report be referred to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for scrutiny and report to Parliament by the Committee; and,

That the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans thereafter submit a report once a year to Parliament, and that this report be referred to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for scrutiny and report to Parliament by the Committee.

Government Response

The Government supports the principle of this recommendation, but believes an existing reporting structure provides the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans the opportunity to report to Parliament on progress on aquatic invasive species. DFO’s annual Departmental Performance Report (DPR) describes accomplishments, with a focus on results-based accountability. Through the DPR, the Minister can describe DFO’s efforts on aquatic invasive species and progress towards its commitment.

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans as the minister responsible for coordinating federal actions relating to aquatic invasive species, expedite the development and implementation under the Canadian Shipping Act of ballast water management regulations providing for mandatory exchange of ballast water.

Government Response

The Government supports the principle of this recommendation. TC is responsible for developing and enforcing ballast water regulations under the Canada Shipping Act. DFO is responsible for conducting scientific studies and for providing TC with scientific advice to support the development and enforcement of ballast water guidelines and regulations under the Canada Shipping Act. DFO scientists work closely with colleagues in TC through the National Ballast Water Working Group of the Canadian Marine Advisory Council (CMAC). DFO will continue to work with TC, nationally through the CMAC and internationally through the International Maritime Organization (IMO), to develop international ballast water standards.

TC is committed to the development of ballast water management regulations. Proposed regulations currently under development for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River will require ballast water exchange, but future national regulations are expected to include ship design and equipment requirements providing for a higher treatment standard than the current practice of ballast water exchange.

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that Canada and the United States under the auspices of the International Joint Commission, harmonize their ballast water treatment and exchange programs.

Government Response

The Government agrees that ballast water treatment and exchange programs should be harmonized between Canada and the United States. TC and the US Coast Guard have taken efforts to ensure this. TC and DFO are members of US national and regional ballast water working groups and committees. Similarly, the US participates in Canadian working groups and committees. The US and Canada already report to the IJC on their ballast water programs in the Great Lakes and their commitment to implement harmonized programs under the provisions of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that as a matter of priority, standards for the treatment of ballast water be developed, implemented and fully enforced.

Government Response

The Government supports the intent of this recommendation. Ballast water management best practices will be incorporated in Ballast Water Regulations under the Canada Shipping Act. DFO is working with TC to develop science-based biological standards for ballast water discharge and treatment. These standards will be reflected in the ballast water regulations when developed.

DFO and TC participate in US Coast Guard initiatives related to the establishment of technical standards for onboard ballast water treatment. The Government of Canada participates in the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO with respect to international regulation of ballast water exchange as an interim step, and ballast water treatment in the longer term. An International Convention for the Control and Management of Ship’s Ballast Water and Sediments will be considered for adoption by the IMO in February 2004; it is anticipated that Canada will be a signatory to this Convention.

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends that the federal government support research into ship design, risk assessment and ballast water treatment technologies.

Government Response

The Government agrees with this recommendation and will continue to provide support for such research.

TC has been involved in and supported several projects on alternative shipboard prevention and control technologies for ballast water management. TC will continue to lead the development of a ballast water research initiative in partnership with other federal departments and agencies and stakeholders.

Other agencies of the government also support research on ballast water technologies. For example, Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC), a special operating agency of Industry Canada, invests in private sector-led projects in Shipbuilding and Industrial Marine (SIM) and Environmental Technologies. TPC also participated with Industry Canada and the National Research Council in the preparation of the Marine and Ocean Industry Technology Road Map, which identifies new ship designs and new ballast water technology as important marine sector areas requiring further research and development.

The National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) provides technical advice as well as funding to Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to conduct competitive research to solve technical problems and commercialize technology. IRAP could financially assist Canadian SMEs with developing and testing ballast water treatment systems for commercialization.

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends that in order to expedite the entry into force of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ship’s Ballast Water and Sediments, Canada press for minimum ratification requirements, in terms of the number of signatures needed.

Government Response

The Government fully agrees with this recommendation. At the July 2003 meetings of the IMO, the Marine Environment Protection Committee approved a finalized draft of the proposed International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments. The Committee agreed to hold a diplomatic conference in February 2004 to adopt the Convention. The Canadian delegates at the conference in February will press for minimum ratification requirements, in terms of the number of signatures required. Recognizing the challenge to achieve international consensus and that ratification could take a long time, the Government is pursuing bilateral arrangements with the United States to ensure a consistent level of protection for North America and minimize potential trade repercussions.

Recommendation 9

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, guarantee stable, long-term funding of the Canadian portion of the Sea Lamprey Control Program. This funding should fully meet Canada’s obligation under the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries to contribute 31% of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission annual budget for the Integrated Management of Sea Lamprey program.

Government Response

The Government agrees in principle with this recommendation and has provided stable and long-term funding to support the Canadian portion of the Sea Lamprey Control Program. On occasion, DFO has provided additional funding to allow purchases of some minor capital items in addition to its Memorandum of Agreement commitments. The funding formula between Canada and the United States is expected to be reviewed by the Parties to the Agreement in the near future. The formula was derived in the mid-1950s and needs to be rationalized to reflect economic and program delivery realities that have evolved between the two countries.

Recommendation 10

The Committee recommends that grass, bighead, silver and black carp and any other aquatic alien species deemed harmful to Canadian wildlife or ecosystems be immediately listed in Schedule II of the Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulations, under the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act in order to prohibit their importation into Canada in a live state.

Government Response

The Government agrees with the intent of this recommendation. Through the risk assessment process described in the National Code on Introductions and Transfers, DFO, in collaboration with other departments, will determine whether grass, bighead, silver and black carp, as well as snakehead, pose sufficient threat to require a prohibition on importation. These risk assessments will be completed by the end of 2003. If the assessments show significant risks associated with a species, EC will initiate the process to prohibit their importation in a live state under WAPPRIITA.

Recommendation 11

The Committee recommends that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans use his or her authority to conserve and protect fish and their habitat under section 43 of the Fisheries Act to issue regulations prohibiting the sale and trade of live grass, bighead, silver and black carp in Canada.

Government Response

The Government agrees with the intent of this recommendation. However WAPPRIITA is available now, and the process to make and enforce a regulation to prohibit the importation of named species under WAPPRIITA can be initiated immediately. Therefore, DFO, in collaboration with other departments, will perform a risk assessment, as described in the National Code on Introductions and Transfers, to assess the degree of potential impacts of grass, bighead, silver and black carp, as well as snakehead. The outcome of these risk assessments, to be completed by the end of 2003, will guide future decisions regarding these species. For those species deemed to pose a significant risk, EC will initiate the process to prohibit their import, using WAPPRIITA.

The Government recognizes that the Fisheries Act may also provide an appropriate legislative framework for managing invasive alien species, and will assess options for its application to aquatic invasive species.

Recommendation 12

The Committee recommends that a central repository of aquatic invasive species research be established to provide easy and effective access to scientific data. Such a repository could be modeled after the Great Lakes fishery database.

Government Response

The Government agrees with the intent of this recommendation. DFO currently has a central repository in the Science Sector Program Inventory that identifies projects, lead scientists and partners for all research projects conducted by DFO, including aquatic invasive species research. In addition, DFO, Central and Arctic Region, is developing a national fish distribution database. The database contains 378,000 geo-referenced records of fish species occurrences across Canada, including aquatic invasive species. The next step in database development is to design a web based data entry module that will allow new species occurrences to be added to the database by qualified fisheries personnel. The database is modeled after the United States Geological Survey’s non-indigenous aquatic species database, which provides web access to the status and distribution of non-indigenous fish species.

DFO has recently created an Invasion Biology Research Chair, held by Dr. Hugh MacIsaac at the University of Windsor, in order to further research into the vectors and impacts of aquatic species invasions. It is the Department’s intention for the Chair to work cooperatively with other researchers, including the US Center on Aquatic Invasive Species, to improve the coordination of research and the sharing of research data between the many institutions and researchers.

Recommendation 13

The Committee recommends that the federal government through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans provide financial support to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters to help fund its aquatic invasive species education initiatives in the province of Ontario.

Government Response

The Government recognizes the contribution of non-governmental organizations, such as the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), in raising public awareness of aquatic invasive species, and the Government has supported the efforts of the OFAH in the past. For example, in 2003, DFO provided OFAH with $10,000 to produce a brochure on aquatic invasive plants. The Government of Canada will continue to work in close partnership with non-governmental organizations as part of its outreach and education programs.

Recommendation 14

The Committee recommends that the federal government through Environment Canada fund the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters’ proposal for $1.4 million over five years for a national aquatic invasive species awareness program.

Government Response

The Government recognizes the contribution of the OFAH in raising public awareness of aquatic invasive species, particularly in the Great Lakes ecosystem. Education and outreach are important aspects of the management of invasive alien species, and the OFAH’s proposal will be considered in developing the National Plan on invasive species. Other stakeholders will also need to be involved in the development of public awareness initiatives, and other measures to address aquatic invasive species.