Aquatic invasive species pose a growing threat to Canada’s freshwater and marine ecosystems. These species are difficult to control and contain, given the high rates of reproduction, the lack of predators, and their ability to thrive in different environments.
With 20 percent of the world’s freshwater and extensive coastlines, Canada is especially vulnerable to aquatic invasive species. With more species poised to enter the country, the economic and environmental consequences would be extreme, impacting the environment, fisheries resource management, trade, shipping, the recreational use of waterways, and human health. Aquatic invasive species have been implicated in both the vast reductions or extinction of indigenous fish and the resulting devastation of local fisheries. In addition to the damage to the environment, invasive species are responsible for billions of dollars in lost revenue and the implementation of control measures.
Currently, there is a patchwork of regulations and policies in place at various levels of government across Canada to address aquatic invasive species. The Government of Canada is committed to protecting our aquatic ecosystems from the threat of aquatic invasive species and is working towards a more coordinated and comprehensive approach.
Given that the cost of prevention is far less than the cost of control and mitigation, the proposed regulations would provide a national regulatory framework to help prevent intentional and unintentional introductions of aquatic invasive species in Canada from other countries, across provincial and territorial borders, and between ecosystems within a region. It would also provide measures to facilitate response and control activities.
The regulations would manage aquatic invasive species through a risk-based approach which lists aquatic invasive species in three categories based on severity of the risk and subjects species identified on each list to specific prohibitions and management measures.
The proposed regulations include the following categories of prohibitions:
- Species listed in Part 1 of the schedule to the regulation would be subject to prohibitions against one or more of: import, possession, transport and release in specific geographic areas. There are 88 species in Part 1, including Asian carps, and zebra and quagga mussels.
- Species in Part 2 of the schedule include species which may represent a risk in all or certain parts of Canada. These species would not be subject to specific prohibitions but they could be subject to control activities in areas where they are not indigenous and may cause harm. There are 14 species in Part 2, including tunicates and green crab.
- The proposed regulations also contain a general prohibition against the introduction of any aquatic species into a water body where it is not indigenous unless this introduction has been authorized through existing federal or provincial permitting regimes. Risk assessments are already used to make decisions about stocking and introduction of species under these regimes and this will continue.
In the future, species could be added or removed from the proposed regulations through regulatory amendment. The initial list of species does not represent all potential aquatic invasive species in Canada but provides a framework that can be populated over time.
The proposed regulations would put the following tools in place to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species in Canada:
- The federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and prescribed provincial ministers would be provided with the ability to licence fishing for aquatic invasive species, as well as authorize or direct the use of approved deleterious substances to control or eradicate aquatic invasive species.
- Enforcement officials would be able to notify an individual, intentionally or unintentionally introducing a species, either directly or through a public notice that an aquatic species is not indigenous in a particular region or body of water frequented by fish.
- In the event that the introduction of such a species is imminent or in the process of occurring, enforcement officials can direct the individual to cease, or prohibit them from engaging in, an activity that may lead to the introduction.
- In order to prevent the introduction or spread of a listed species, enforcement officials would be able to take measures or issue written directions to individuals to take actions to prevent the introduction or spread of an aquatic invasive species. Canadian Border Services Agency officers will have the ability to enforce prohibitions against import at the Canadian border.
Recognizing that the importation, transportation, possession and release of species listed in the regulations may be acceptable under certain circumstances, the proposed AIS Regulations include some exemptions to these prohibitions. For example, exemptions are proposed for specific groups of people for the purposes of scientific research, education or aquatic invasive species control when relevant permits listed in the AIS Regulations have been obtained.
The Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations are expected to help reduce the potential damage to aquatic environments by preventing the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species, which have the potential to drastically alter habitats and render them inhospitable for native species.
They are also expected to help reduce or avoid some of the costs arising from damages caused by aquatic invasive species which can be very significant once the invader has established itself.
Canadians are invited to comment on the proposed Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations, beginning on December 6th, 2014. All comments received during the 30-day pre-publication period on the proposed regulations will be considered before policy directions are finalized and revisions, if needed, to the regulations are made. Once finalized, approval by the Governor in Council will be sought. If approved, the regulations will be registered by the Privy Council Office then published in the Canada Gazette, Part II and they will come into force.