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A Canadian Action Plan to Address the Threat of Aquatic Invasive Species

Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers Aquatic Invasive Species Task Group

A Canadian Action Plan to Address the Threat of Aquatic Invasive Species

A Canadian Action Plan to Address the Threat of Aquatic Invasive Species (PDF, 101 KB)

Table of Contents

Key Pathways for Introduction or Spread

The process of minimizing the effects of invasive species begins with understanding how they get into Canadian waters in the first place and how they spread once they are introduced. This section describes the main 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.

Developing a clear picture of the seven key pathways for introduction or spread provides the necessary information for taking effective action. While the following seven pathways have been identified as primary sources for the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species, it is recognized that new pathways could be identified in the future, as a result of changing trade patterns or public interest. This document is intended to provide governments with a fluid framework for monitoring and evaluating possible sources of invasion and assessing the magnitude of risk associated with other potential pathways such as fish processing effluent and grey water.

1. Shipping

This pathway includes large ocean-going vessels with ballast capability (commercial shipping, naval, and cruise vessels) that operate in Canada's offshore, nearshore and inland waters. These vessels unintentionally transport invasive species that attach themselves to ship hulls or that survive in the ballast water that is taken on in foreign ports. Historically, alien species in ballast water are considered to be the largest single source of aquatic invasive species in Canada's waterways.

Vessels require ballast water to safely balance their weight distribution and to compensate for a lack of weight by cargo, fuel or passengers. Ballast taken onboard in one port may be released in another port and with this water come invasive species from the previous port.

Organisms attached to ship hulls can also easily survive a long voyage and establish themselves in foreign ports. A variety of substances and procedures are currently used by the shipping industry to limit hull fouling. While reducing the presence of invasive species, anti-fouling hull coatings can contain toxic substances.

At present, vessels in Canadian waters are only subject to voluntary guidelines established by Transport Canada, with the exception of all vessels entering the Great Lakes that are subject to US Coast Guard regulations. Regulations under the Canada Shipping Act, which will be closely harmonized with similar measures adopted by the United States and the International Maritime Organization, are expected to be in place in 2004. These measures are similar to what is contained in the existing voluntary guidelines and will initially include the mandatory management of ballast water by ballast exchange at sea. This is currently the only approved form of ballast water management. In the longer term, the implementation of a performance standard for ballast water exchange is expected to provide more effective protection for receiving ports.

The current lack of technology to effectively reduce the number of organisms in ballast water remains an obstacle to setting and enforcing stricter standards. Several federal laboratories in Canada, as well as several universities and private corporations, are researching alternatives to ballast water exchange. The Canadian Marine Advisory Council, with participation from government agencies, industry and ENGOs, has national and regional working groups on ballast water in place.

Neither the voluntary guidelines nor the proposed regulations address the problems associated with the fact that more than 70 per cent of vessels entering Canadian Great Lakes waters are fully loaded and, therefore, require no additional ballast water. Although their tanks retain sludge at the bottom that may contain alien species or pathogens, such ships report that they have "no-ballast-onboard" (NoBoB) and are exempt from current regulations.

2. Recreational and commercial boating

This pathway consists of the in-water use and overland transportation of all watercraft other than large ocean-going vessels with ballast capabilities, such as commercial shipping, naval and cruise vessels, which are covered in the shipping pathway. Powerboats, yachts, personal watercraft, sailboats, canoes, float planes, paddleboats, and associated equipment (such as trailers or fishing equipment), as well as commercial fishing, education and research, and charter boat vessels are included in this pathway.

The use and transport of watercraft can spread aquatic invasive species to lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastal areas throughout Canada when organisms like zebra mussels or clubbed tunicate and plants like Eurasian water milfoil attach to or become lodged on the hull, motor, trailer or equipment such as anchors, ropes or fishing gear. Any water that enters the watercraft during operation (bilge water, live wells, and engine cooling systems) may contain unwanted organisms. If precautions are not taken, transient boating activity poses the greatest risk for spreading aquatic invasive species within Canada as a result of the movement between waterways (by water or overland transport) of watercraft and associated equipment.

Currently there are few specific regulations directed at recreational and commercial boating related to preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. Education and voluntary compliance are key activities for preventing the spread of invasive species through recreational and commercial boating. Governments and NGOs offer public awareness programs that provide information on AIS and promote the use of voluntary user-specific prevention procedures for recreational and commercial boating. For example, boat inspection programs can serve the dual purpose of heightening public awareness of AIS and providing inspection of trailered watercraft. Research is being done on ways in which boating activities contribute to the spread of invasive species.

3. Use of live bait

This pathway consists of the public and commercial use of live organisms (including minnows, frogs, aquatic and terrestrial worms, leeches, and aquatic or terrestrial insects and larvae) to catch fish. Recreational anglers collect their own or buy commercially-sold live bait.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources co-chairs an Exotics Committee with the Bait Association of Ontario (BAO) to work cooperatively to address issues related to this pathway. This partnership produces public awareness materials, maintains a web-site, develops best management practices for the live-bait industry, gathers data from mandatory annual reporting by licensed bait harvesters, and engages in Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) training.

The wild harvest and use of live bait creates a vector for introduction of bait fish and other organisms (non-target fish species, aquatic organisms, pathogens, parasites, aquatic plant fragments, aquatic and terrestrial worms) that may be in bait buckets or associated with harvest gear when the regulations governing the use of live bait are contravened, intentionally or unintentionally. Fish and fellow travelers can be introduced through dumping of bait buckets or anglers and harvesters hoping to establish new populations or enhance existing forage bases by increasing the size and density of game species. (see Unauthorized introductions pathway)

Even dead bait may carry live fellow travelers, such as parasites or diseases, whether in the bait itself or in the carrying medium.

Where the use of live baitfish is allowed, regulations to prevent introductions seem to have been ineffective. Many anglers release baitfish at the end of a fishing trip and various jurisdictions have noted unauthorized introductions of these species despite prohibitions against the release, and in some cases the use, of live baitfish.

Although the impacts of some of the species not native to Canada are quite clear, the effects of species native to Canadian waters that spread beyond their normal range tend to be more difficult to assess. While these have not been studied, genetic and ecological impacts are potentially similar to those identified for other species.

While there are specific regulations covering all regions of Canada restricting the use of live bait, compliance and enforcement remain major issues. Regulations cover issues such as the release of fish (including baitfish), inter-provincial and international transport of bait, and the allowable species permitted for use as bait.

4. Aquarium and water garden trade

This pathway consists of the intentional or unintentional release of aquatic organisms including fish, invertebrates, plants, amphibians and reptiles sold for use indoors in aquariums and outdoors in ornamental ponds and water gardens. Owners may intentionally release species into open waters because they have outgrown aquariums or are no longer wanted. Species may also be intentionally introduced for control of weeds or unwanted organisms like the mosquito or as part of certain cultural practices. Unintentional release can occur when fish, aquatic invertebrates, or plants escape outdoor ponds naturally (seeds spreading) or during unexpected overflow events (flooding).

Although many aquarium species are tropical and cannot survive Canadian winters, there are numerous examples of fish, invertebrates, and plants that have been introduced or have spread in Canada as a result of aquarium releases. Concern has also been expressed regarding more temperate species available in the trade, especially those intended for ornamental ponds. Recent work in the US indicates that purchasing products over the internet contributes to long range movement of plants utilized in the water garden trade.

The potential for the introduction of pathogens associated with aquarium organisms released to natural waters is also a concern. Links have been made between fish available through the aquarium and water garden trade and diseases that have caused significant mortality in native fish.

In most parts of Canada, it is illegal to release any aquatic organisms into the wild without a permit but this is not effectively enforced or consistently applied across the country. Little is being done in most jurisdictions to address the issue of aquarium releases. The aquarium industry remains largely unregulated. There are very few regulations specifically designed to address the concerns associated with introductions of aquatic organisms from the aquarium and water garden trades. Each year, numerous aquarium fish are captured in the open waters of Canada, emphasizing the ineffectiveness of the regulations related to release of fish.

General education programs regarding exotic species and the perils of illegal releases exist in most jurisdictions but are usually not specifically directed towards aquarium releases.

The Fish Rescue Program is a joint effort of the Royal Ontario Museum, the Toronto Zoo, the Canadian Association of Aquarium Clubs, the Ontario government, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The program makes aquarium owners aware of the dangers of releasing pets or plants into the wild and facilitates finding homes for unwanted aquarium pets.

In Ontario, a multi-agency group has established a Fish Rescue Program (see text box). The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada led the production of information flyers that are being inserted into new aquariums.

5. Live foodfish

This pathway refers to any fish or other aquatic organisms imported or transferred live within Canada for distribution and sale for human consumption.

British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces have a long history of shipping live aquatic products from domestic commercial capture fisheries and aquaculture sources to regional, national, and international markets. These activities are regulated and controlled. Shipments of marine organisms to freshwater market areas pose a relatively low risk. However, depending on the species in question and the shipping methods/media used, activities such as the shipment of marine species from one coast to another and the importation of live marine species from other countries constitute a much higher level of risk.

Live foodfish markets are expanding in Canada's urban centres, especially those with large ethnic populations. Environmental risks include unauthorized releases of alien fish and the introduction of pathogens and "fellow-travelers" in shipping waters and material used to transport live foodfish. For example, the European green crab (Carcinus maenus) is believed to have been introduced to the US west coast in the packing material of live foodfish from the east coast.

Existing regulations governing importation of live foodfish and public education materials focus on addressing human health and consumer safety but do not address the need to protect native aquatic species and their habitat. Further, regulations that prohibit unauthorized introductions of any live fish to natural waters, such as the Fishery (General) Regulations, ss. 55 and 56, do not apply in all Canadian jurisdictions and where they do apply, they are difficult to effectively enforce.

Regulations bearing on the environmental risks of live alien fish exist but are not specific to the live foodfish trade. Introductions and Transfers Committees in some jurisdictions may deal with aspects related to the potential risks associated with the live foodfish trade.

Public education programs regarding the environmental consequences of releasing live fish into natural waters exist in some jurisdictions. They are not, however, targeted specifically to the live foodfish trade. Importers, distributors, and retailers may be aware of the environmental risks associated with unauthorized uses of non-native foodfish but this knowledge is not common or communicated across all jurisdictions.

6. Unauthorized introductions

Unauthorized introductions are defined as any introduction or transfer of fish (including shellfish) or marine plant not performed or authorized by a federal, provincial or territorial fisheries management agency.

As noted previously, authorized and intentional introductions are NOT covered by this plan as they have been addressed through the National Code on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms.

Many new populations of fish of various species have been established throughout Canada because of unauthorized stocking. These introductions are often conducted by individuals with good intentions, such as creating new recreational or commercial fisheries or manipulating vegetation or existing fish stocks to introduce food into stunted fish lakes.

These practices are illegal and can cause great harm to existing recreational, commercial, and bait fisheries. The results of these activities are often not discovered until the population has expanded such that the invader is encountered in the recreational or commercial fishery.

In many instances, unauthorized introductions are range extensions of already introduced or naturalized alien species. The negative effects of these stocking activities often become widespread as the introduced species moves to other lakes through connected waterways.

As popular as some alien species are, they can create a lot of problems for both native species and for fish managers. This is especially true when they are illegally planted in lakes that are being managed for other fisheries. Strategies to eliminate or control unauthorized introduced fish are difficult to design and implement, costly, and almost entirely ineffective.

All existing federal, provincial and territorial fisheries management legislation contains sections that make unauthorized introductions of fish illegal and subject to prosecution. Initiatives to alert anglers and others to the problems posed by unauthorized introductions of fish and other aquatic organisms are currently undertaken on an ad hoc basis within virtually all jurisdictions.

7. Canals and water diversions

This pathway consists of canals and channels used for shipping and bulk water diversion. These create artificial connections allowing the free movement of species across physical barriers, between watersheds (inter-basin), and within watersheds (intra-basin).

Canals and diversions are important features on the North American landscape for navigation, hydro-electric power development, recreation, commerce, water supply, flood control, and agriculture. Their existence has also generated the negative by-product of increased invasion and range expansion of alien organisms into new waters.

The Government of Canada opposes any inter-basin water diversion projects, within Canada or in basins shared with the United States, which may result in the transfer of foreign biota to Canadian waters.

With respect to intra-basin water diversions, the federal government continues to ensure that all projects within Canada or in watersheds shared with the United States are subject to the full extent of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) process and that the environmental impacts of foreign biota are fully considered in the course of this review. The CEAA requires an environmental assessment for projects as defined by the Act (that are not excluded by the Exclusion List Regulations or carried out in response to a national emergency) where there is a federal trigger including where there is federal funding, the federal government is the proponent of the project, or there is a federal regulatory decision to be made in relation to the project that is included in the Law List Regulations. The federal government advocates exercising caution with respect to intra-basin transfers and endorses less disruptive alternatives such as demand management and water conservation to satisfy societal needs without sacrificing water related values to irreversible actions.

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