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Clean, drain, dry - Keeping our rivers healthy

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Clean, drain, dry - Keeping our rivers healthy

With the summer boating season underway, it’s a good time to bring attention to an issue that is a concern for rivers across Canada: aquatic invasive species. 

An invasive species is an organism (e.g., animals, plants, parasites, viruses, etc.) not native to a region that when introduced, either intentionally or accidentally, may out-compete native species for available resources such as food and space. An aquatic invasive species, or AIS, can live in freshwater or marine environments. 

Once introduced, AIS can have devastating consequences on the ecology of a waterbody, and potentially impact human use. In recent years, people have become more aware of the role that water-users play in accidentally spreading AIS from one waterbody to another, by giving “hitchhiking” AIS a ride on their watercraft. 

Zebra mussels
Zebra Mussels. Photo: Manitoba Parks

Many people may already be familiar with some aquatic invasive species – such as Zebra Mussels and Carp – introduced to the Great Lakes in the 1970s and 80s, largely through the discharge of cargo ship ballast water. Paddlers and recreational boaters, however, may not realize or consider the role they play in stopping the spread of AIS. Just as AIS can hitch a ride on the bottom of a motorboat or in bilge water, they can also become attached to canoes, kayaks and paddleboards, and equipment like waders, paddles, and life jackets. 

To prevent the spread of AIS, all water-users should take the following steps before launching or moving watercraft, water-related equipment (i.e., trailers, removable docks, fishing gear, anchors), aircraft (i.e., float planes), and/or motor or off-road vehicles (ORVs) from one water body into another water body:

mussels encrusted on a boat motor
Zebra mussels encrusted on a boat motor. Photo: Public domain

1. CLEAN and remove AIS and aquatic plants before leaving the shore of the water body. Whether you are a boater, paddler, or swimmer, when you come out of a waterbody, make sure there is nothing attached to or hanging from your watercraft or equipment.  Keep in mind that some AIS are small enough that you might not see them, but you can feel them with your hands.

2. DRAIN all water from the watercraft (i.e., ballast tanks, motor, live well, compartments) and water-related equipment (i.e., bait bucket) before leaving the shore.

3. DRY completely or decontaminate water-related equipment before placing it into another water body. This includes ropes, life jackets, and even sand toys. Equipment should be completely dry before it’s placed into another waterbody.

Some users may already have experience with watercraft inspection and decontamination stations. For example, the Province of Manitoba now operates an AIS Watercraft Inspection Program from late spring into fall in certain areas of concern, and Manitoba boaters are getting used to the requirement to stop for inspections, and potentially decontamination, when watercraft inspection stations are open. 

cleaning a boat at a watercraft inspection station
Cleaning a canoe at a watercraft inspection station. Photo: Parks Canada

Similar programs and inspection stations can be found in provinces across Canada including British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Many parks – including Riding Mountain, Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay national parks – now require boaters to have a watercraft inspection permit or sign a self-certification declaration prior to launching watercraft. 

Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial governments have formed a National Aquatic Invasive Species Committee to help with information sharing and coordinating the implementation of Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations. It’s important to keep in mind that, while most Canadian provinces, territories and the United States have AIS legislation and regulations, these can differ between jurisdictions. Water users are advised to know the rules and requirements in their own jurisdiction, and check those in other jurisdictions that you may be visiting or travelling through. 

Zebra Mussels at Grand Beach
Zebra Mussels on Grand Beach in Manitoba. Photo: Manitoba Parks