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Fine for Aquatic Invasive Species in ALberta
The Rockies.Life Staff

Fishing for Trouble? Alberta’s New Fines Are No Small Fry

If you break the rules, you will only catch a whopper of a fine

Alberta now has the highest fines for aquatic invasive species in North America, so you might want to carefully plan your next fishing excursion. 

A watercraft inspection station | Government of Alberta
A watercraft inspection station | Government of Alberta

If you thought our province’s fines were high before, the new fines will make you go belly up. 

The fine for failing to stop with a trailered boat at an inspection station used to be $324. 

Now, failing to stop will net you a $4,200 fine. 

The fine for failing to remove a bilge plug when transporting a watercraft on a roadway is now $600, up from $180. 

Six hundred dollars for not unplugging a boat’s bilge might sound absurd, but aquatic invasive species are known to hide in lake or river water stored in the bilge.

Aquatic invasive species also stow away in different parts of watercraft and equipment like hip waders, life jackets, kayaks, and more. 

Aquatic invasive species are fish, invertebrates, or plant species introduced into an aquatic environment outside their natural range. 

Invasive species cause harm to ecosystems, cost money, and reduce water quality for recreational use. 

Zebra mussels attached to and suffocating a native mussel  Bayport Marina
Zebra mussels attached to and suffocating a native mussel | Bayport Marina

Zebra mussels are one of North America’s most well-known aquatic invasive species. 

Zebra mussels originated from Europe. They were brought over to the Great Lakes in the late 1980s via the ballast water of ocean freighters travelling between Europe and North America. 

When these ships discharged their ballast water, countless zebra mussels were released into the Great Lakes. 

It is estimated that there are as many as 750 trillion zebra mussels in the Great Lakes today.

Zebra mussels are bad for many reasons. They filter out algae that native aquatic species need for food. 

Zebra mussels also outcompete native mussels for food and will attach themselves to these mussels, suffocating them. 

In addition to mucking up ecosystems, zebra mussels cause millions of dollars in damage yearly by clogging intake structures in power stations and water treatment plants, as well as damaging watercraft. 

Reputation On The Fishing Line

Zebra mussels are one of six prohibited species under the federal Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations. Another prohibited species includes quagga mussels, just as nasty as zebra mussels. 

Fending off trillions, if not quadrillions, of aquatic invasive mussels, sounds impossible, but our province proves otherwise.

“We are setting the highest fines in North America because we want everyone to take inspection and detection seriously. Alberta is currently zebra and quagga mussel free, so let’s keep em out,” said Rebecca Schulz, Alberta Minister of Environment and Protected Areas in a news release

Zebra mussels clogging a water intake system
Zebra mussels clogging a water intake system | Marrone Bio Innovations Inc. | Environmental Science & Engineering

Alberta takes aquatic invasive species seriously. 

In addition to increasing fines, the provincial government launched a new Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force and invested $2.5 million to increase the number of inspection stations, keep stations open for as long as possible, and employ more inspectors. 

Existing methods of prevention include Parks Canada’s aquatic invasive species prevention program. 

This year, the program will implement a main inspection station on Maligne Lake Road and another at Whistler Campground station in Jasper National Park. 

“Increasing fines for failing to stop with a trailered boat at an inspection station will help ensure that all boats coming into Alberta are inspected and mussel-free. Prevention is the most effective way to prevent mussels from establishing and destructively impacting Alberta’s water bodies,” said Megan Evans, Alberta Invasive Species Council executive director.

The program is also increasing the presence of its education team at water bodies throughout the park. This team is responsible for educating visitors about the clean, drain, and dry prevention steps.

People should dry their boats for at least 48 hours between each outing, which is pretty lenient, considering zebra mussels can live out of water for about 30 days

Avoiding A Clam-ity  

Cindy Sawchuk, the Conservation K-9 Unit lead for Alberta Environment and Protected Areas, and Hilo, a specialized detection dog, inspecting a boat for invasive mussels
Cindy Sawchuk, the Conservation K-9 Unit lead for Alberta Environment and Protected Areas, and Hilo, a specialized detection dog, inspecting a boat for invasive mussels | Jungmin Ham | St. Albert Gazette

Keeping Alberta free of zebra and quagga mussels is no easy feat. Watercraft inspections have been mandatory in the province since 2015. Since then, there have been many close calls. 

“Every year, boat inspection stations identify several boats entering Alberta contaminated with invasive mussels,” said Evans.

In 2023, 38 boaters were charged or received warnings for not stopping at inspection stations. Another six received fines for transporting a watercraft without removing the bilge plug. 

In the same year, almost 9,000 watercraft were inspected, 19 of which were confirmed to have invasive mussels. 

If not for inspections, who knows how many invasive mussels we would have by now? 

According to a recent study, if invasive mussels found their way into Lake McGregor southeast of Calgary, it could cause damages of as much as $284 million per year. 

Not to mention Lake McGregor is connected to a larger system of reservoirs and irrigation in southern Alberta. 

Zebra and quagga mussels breed incredibly fast. 

Rainbow trout with whirling disease | Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

A single female zebra mussel produces up to one million eggs each breeding season. All it takes is one boat carrying zebra mussels to devastate a water body. 

Invasive mussels are a pain in the poop deck, but they aren’t the only aquatic invasive species of concern. Alberta also has its fins dealing with invasive brook trout, which is known to carry whirling disease.  

Whirling disease is named after the ‘whirling’ swimming behaviour observed in infected fish. 

Fish with the whirling disease may also have physical deformities such as a crooked tail, discoloration, and a sloped head.

There is no treatment for the fatal disease, which can kill 90 percent of young fish, including our province’s native bull and cutthroat trout species. 

Alberta is home to some of the best fishing in Canada. Why throw that away by ignoring mandatory watercraft inspections? 

It’s not like the fish will grow legs and walk away in the time it takes for an inspection. Increased fines only suck for people that break the rules.

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