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Preventing aquatic invasive species

Learn how we’re preventing the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species and what you can do to help.

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Reducing risks

Aquatic invasive species can be introduced accidentally or intentionally into Canadian waters by human activities. They can establish themselves in our waters and spread rapidly when they don't face natural predators or competitors. In recent years, the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species has been much more rapid because of globalization, including increased international shipping, online shopping and travel.

Prevention is the most efficient and cost-effective method of dealing with aquatic invasive species, including managing the pathways that they travel along to enter and spread in our waters.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada collaborates with partners across Canada to prevent the introduction, establishment and spread of aquatic invasive species in our waterways.

What you can do to help

Everyone can help prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species and limit their spread before they become a bigger problem.

General measures to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species include:

Don't let it loose

Plants and animals that are not native to Canada can become aquatic invasive species if they are released into our waters. These aquatic invasive species can harm our environment, economy and society.

Under the federal Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations, it is illegal to introduce an aquatic species into a body of water where it is not native, unless authorized under federal, provincial or territorial law.

You can help prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species. Never release aquarium pets, water garden plants, live food (e.g., fish, crabs, shellfish, snails) or live bait into rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, storm sewers or the ocean. Sport fish may only be released back into the waters from which they were caught (i.e., catch-and-release) and never moved from one body of water to another.

Releasing any organism into any body of water can start an invasion, but you can stop it. It is illegal everywhere in Canada to introduce any species into a body of water where it is not native. Stop aquatic invasive species: don't let it loose.

Pets and plants from aquariums, ponds, or water gardens

Pets and plants from aquariums, ponds, or water gardens

Stop aquatic invasive species – Don’t let it loose.
Stop aquatic invasive species – Don’t let it loose.

Many animals and plants sold for aquariums and water gardens are not native to Canada. Some owners think that releasing a pet that becomes too large, too difficult to care for or that they no longer want is the most compassionate thing to do. This is not true.

Domestic pets generally do not have the survival skills to live beyond their tank or pond. They can starve to death or may be eaten by predators in the wild. Or in some cases, they may survive, reproduce and spread, becoming aquatic invasive species. Even if your pet is native to the local environment, it should never be released, as it may be carrying diseases or parasites. Small pieces or seeds from water garden plants can also thrive and cause an invasion if released.

What should you do instead?

Be a responsible pet and plant owner and C.A.R.E.:
Contact

  • Ask a friend or someone else if they can adopt your pet. Using social media, community lists or online classified ads may be helpful
  • Contact the pet store or place where you purchased your pet to see if they can take it back
  • Research other places that may be able to provide a new home for your pet, such as animal shelters, animal sanctuaries, humane societies, science centers, zoos, aquariums, schools or community organizations
  • Learn about aquatic invasive species in your region. If you have a pet or plant that may be of concern, contact your provincial/territorial government for assistance

Act responsibly

  • Research pets and plants before buying or adopting. Know how large they will get, how long they will live and how much work they entail. Make sure you are willing to fully commit to their lifetime of care. If you see potential issues in caring for them long-term, consider an alternative
  • Know what pets and plants are legal to own. Only buy them from retailers whose species are properly labeled, especially when buying online
  • When gardening, select plants that are native to your region. They will be more likely to thrive and are better for local bees, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians and birds
  • Ensure water gardens and ponds are contained with no chance of any species or water escaping into other waterbodies
  • Ensure any water released from aquariums, ponds or water gardens is done on land and away from household drains, sewers or other bodies of water

Report

End ownership

  • As a last resort, contact a qualified veterinarian to euthanize your pet in a humane manner. This is far kinder than letting it starve to death in the wild or destroy the homes, food sources, and lives of native species
  • If your pet dies, don't flush it down the toilet. You should bury it instead so it can't spread diseases (as permitted by provincial/territorial/municipal laws)
  • Dry and freeze non-native plants in tightly sealed bags before throwing them in the trash. Do not compost them

For more information

Live food

Live food

Stop aquatic invasive species – Don’t let it loose.

Some people intentionally release live food (e.g., fish, crabs, shellfish) from grocery stores or fish markets into the wild as an act of compassion or mercy. This can be harmful to both the released animal (which may not survive in the new environment) or to native species if it survives and becomes invasive. For example, Northern Snakehead may have established its first invasive population in North America through a mercy release.

What should you do instead?

  • Ensure all of the food you purchase is dead before leaving the store, when appropriate
  • If you practice compassion or mercy release for religious or cultural reasons, explore alternative methods, such as volunteering with wildlife sanctuaries that release animals back into their natural environment
Live bait

Live bait

Stop aquatic invasive species – Don’t let it loose.

Live bait is often used to catch larger fish in commercial and recreational fishing. Using live bait can spread when the bait used is actually an invasive species. For example, young Asian carps can easily be mistaken for local minnows. Anglers that use live bait should never dump it or the contents of a bait bucket into a water body when they are done fishing, as this can lead not only to the introduction of aquatic invasive species, but also the spread of pathogens or diseases among native fish.

What should you do instead?

  • Use artificial bait as a safer alternative when fishing. Remember, even dead or frozen bait can carry diseases
  • Always buy bait from dealers and follow provincial and territorial regulations regarding bait use
  • Regulations on the movement of live bait vary between provinces and territories. Always check the regulations in your region before using live bait or moving it from one waterbody to another
  • Dispose of unused bait, dead fish, fish parts and water or debris from bait buckets in a secure trash area at least 30 metres away from the shore before leaving a waterbody

For more information

Sport fish and recreational fishing

Sport fish and recreational fishing

Stop aquatic invasive species – Don’t let it loose.

Deliberately releasing sport fish without authorization in new waterbodies to create angling opportunities is illegal. Sport fish are often large, predatory or generalist feeders. This means they can have widespread negative impacts on a variety of native species. Even species that are native in some parts of Canada can become invasive beyond their natural range.

Some non-native fish that have been illegally moved within Canada for recreational fishing purposes and have caused significant damage include:

These species are all listed in the federal Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations.

What should you do instead?

For more information

Other pathways of introduction and spread

There are many ways aquatic invasive species can enter and spread in our waterways, including attaching themselves to recreational boats and other equipment. You can help prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species by paying careful attention to the areas where they can enter our waters and by making sure to stop their movement through these pathways.

Recreational boating

Recreational boating

Zebra mussels on a pontoon boat frame.

Zebra mussels on a pontoon boat frame.

Recreational boating can lead to biological fouling, which happens when species attach to hulls and other submerged areas of boats or equipment. These species are often quite small and travel with the vessel to new areas, where they eventually dislodge and can become invasive. This is how many fouling aquatic invasive species enter new areas in our waters, including zebra mussels.

To prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species from recreational boating, remember to clean, drain, dry. This means:

  • before entering and after exiting a body of water, inspect your recreational boating equipment, including the:
    • boat's hull
    • motor
    • anchor
    • trailer
    • other equipment such as fishing lines and diving gear
  • clean all equipment after use with freshwater, or spray them with pure vinegar
  • if you find any plants and animals attached to your boating equipment:
    • remove them
    • dispose of them far from the water, in an appropriate compost or garbage bin
  • drain water from your motor, bilge and wells on land and away from the water
  • dry equipment completely before entering another water body
  • use environment-friendly anti-fouling paint or products on your boat hull to prvent species from attaching to your boat
  • ask for information about local aquatic invasive species at the public wharves or marinas you visit

For more information

Diving and other watersports

Diving and other watersports

Many aquatic invasive species can attach themselves to water sports equipment, including scuba diving tanks, canoes, kayaks, wind and kitesurf boards, wakeboards, paddleboards, and water skis To prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species, make sure to clean, drain and dry your equipment completely after every use and before entering another water body. Recreational fishing gear should also always be cleaned after use, including waders, fishing rods and lines, and other angling equipment.

Industry and commerce action

The industry and commerce sectors can also help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species along several pathways, including shipping and construction.

Shipping

Shipping

Shipping vessels can carry aquatic invasive species in their cargo, in their ballast water or on their hulls. For information on how to help prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species when shipping, visit Transport Canada's website:

For more information

Aquaculture

Aquaculture

Fish, crustaceans, algae or shellfish grown in an aquaculture facility are not always native to Canadian waters. Aquatic invasive species can be introduced or spread to local habitats through aquaculture facilities when:

  • non-native species escape and establish a local population
  • a facility's infrastructure (e.g., lines, spats, boats or nets) provides a surface for invasive species to attach to and spread

To prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species from aquaculture industries:

  • consult Fisheries and Oceans Canada and your province before introducing or moving a farmed animal for aquaculture purposes
  • follow the National Code on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms including:
    • keep aquaculture cages clean
    • conduct a thorough risk assessment before introducing or moving any species
    • have contingency plans in case of accidental release during shipment, etc.
    • take precautions to ensure that no other species accompany shipments

For more information

Canals and water diversions

Canals and water diversions

Irrigation canals and other water diversions can connect water bodies, which can allow aquatic invasive species to move into new areas.

To prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species through canals and water diversions:

Construction in aquatic environments

Construction in aquatic environments

Aquatic invasive species can be introduced to a new water body during construction or other activities, such as the building and installation of:

  • docks
  • platforms
  • bulkheads
  • breakwaters
  • artificial reefs
  • bridges

Aquatic invasive species can be introduced and spread by transporting sands and sediments from other areas and using contaminated construction equipment. Heavy machinery, such as harvesters and dredges, can also spread aquatic invasive species if the equipment is not properly cleaned between projects.

To prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species during construction in aquatic environments:

  • consult our projects near water guide before starting any work, projects or activities that may impact fish and fish habitat
  • remove any aquatic plants and animals before moving vehicles or equipment from one water source to another
  • ensure all machinery arrives on site in a clean condition
  • check to see if any materials being used in construction come from a contaminated area where an aquatic invasion already exists
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