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Substantial fine increase for invasive species

Alberta Government photo.

Nicholas L. M. Allen

Jun 19, 2024

Alberta enforces highest fines in North America to combat invasive species

Starting June 20, Alberta will implement the highest fines in North America to prevent zebra mussels and other invasive species from entering the province. This aggressive measure aims to protect Alberta’s waterways and ecosystems from these harmful invaders.

Currently, Alberta is still free of zebra and quagga mussels. However, these tiny but destructive species can spread quickly through boats and watercraft crossing provincial borders. Once established, they can cause significant damage by clogging waterways, harming ecosystems, and incurring hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

To address this threat, fines for not stopping at an open inspection station with a trailered boat will increase from $324 to $4,200. Additionally, fines for not removing a bilge plug when transporting watercraft will rise from $180 to $600. These measures ensure boats are properly drained, inspected, and free of invasive species before entering Alberta.

“Zebra mussels and other invasive species can devastate Alberta’s rivers, lakes, and waterways. We are setting the highest fines in North America because we want everyone to take inspection and detection seriously,” said Rebecca Schulz, Minister of Environment and Protected Areas, “Alberta is currently zebra and quagga mussel-free, so let’s keep ’em out.”

Reports of aquatic invasive species are increasing across Canada and the United States, making it essential for Alberta to use every available tool to prevent costly damage. A recent study estimated that invasive mussels in Lake McGregor alone could cause $284 million in damage annually. Lake McGregor is part of a larger interconnected system in southern Alberta, highlighting the broader impact potential.

“Watercraft inspections are mandatory in Alberta, and these fines will ensure boaters follow the rules,” said Grant Hunter, chair of the Invasive Species Task Force and MLA for Taber-Warner, “The best way to prevent invasive species from establishing is for all incoming individuals to remove their drain plugs and stop at inspection stations.”

Megan Evans, executive director of the Alberta Invasive Species Council, added, “Every year, boat inspection stations identify several boats entering Alberta contaminated with invasive mussels. Increasing fines for failing to stop at an inspection station will help ensure all boats are inspected and mussel-free. Prevention is the most effective way to protect Alberta’s waterbodies.”

Alberta’s heightened border defence also includes a $2.5 million investment to increase inspection stations, add more inspectors, and extend operational hours. The government has also launched a new Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force. Alberta continues to advocate for stronger federal actions to stop invasive species at the Canada-United States border.

Some aquatic invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, can survive for nearly 30 days out of water. Watercraft inspections have been mandatory in Alberta since 2015. In 2023, 38 boaters received charges or warnings for not stopping at an inspection station, and six for transporting a watercraft with the drain plug still in. Last year, Alberta inspected 8,818 boats, 19 of which were positive for invasive mussels. Seventeen of these boats originated from Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba, while two came from Michigan and Minnesota. Eleven boats were headed to British Columbia, seven to Alberta, and one to Alaska.

The 2024 Aquatic Invasive Species Watercraft Inspections and Decontamination Program has expanded the number of fixed inspection stations to seven and launched a new roving crew, increasing the number of dedicated inspectors to 50. Stations opened in April and will remain open through the September long weekend, with many extending beyond this period.

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