Province keeps spotlight on invasive species

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Be alert Manitobans: invasive species are seeking to tag along on your beach and fishing trips.

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Be alert Manitobans: invasive species are seeking to tag along on your beach and fishing trips.

Zebra mussels, rusty crayfish and spiny water fleas are the three main aquatic invasive species on the province’s radar. To prevent the spread, Candace Parks, aquatic invasive species specialist, said Manitobans should clean, drain and dry anything that goes in the water, be it boat, kayak or inflatable toy.

Although each species poses a threat to Manitoba’s ecosystems, Parks said zebra mussels are currently the greatest and most widespread.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS It’s a myth that zebra mussels cling only to boats. Kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, sand toys and fishing rods must also be inspected and cleaned.

“Zebra mussels are the poster child when it comes to aquatic invasive species,” Parks said. “We want to make sure we stop spreading species that we have and prevent any new aquatic invasive species from coming into Manitoba.”

Zebra mussels likely first arrived in Manitoba in 2013. Although they were successfully removed in parts of Lake Winnipeg in 2014, they were later found in the southern basin of the lake and can no longer be eradicated.

The province now focuses on prevention, rather than elimination.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Rusty crayfish, like these specimens preserved for educational purposes, are among the top three most problematic aquatic invasive species in Manitoba.

The mussels remove plankton from the water, drastically impacting filtration and aquatic food chains. They are also microscopic in the youth stage, making them impossible to spot until adulthood.

To prevent the spread of zebra mussels, the government has set up six decontamination stations across the province. Manitobans who possess, bring or transport invasive species could receive a fine of $1,296. Those caught bypassing watercraft decontamination sites may also be fined $672.

Scott Higgins, a research scientist at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, explained aquatic invasive species are a detriment to ecosystems in many ways. Crucially, there are often no native predators to hunt them, leading to overpopulation and the loss of native species.

“When a new species shows up in a lake or a river, they have the potential to cause large disruptions to food webs, in some cases eliminating species, which would mean a loss of native biodiversity,” Higgins said. “Even when species aren’t elimination, their abundance can be severely restricted.”

Higgins said zebra mussels have an economic impact as well, clogging intake pipes in drinking water systems.

Ken Jeffries, an associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Manitoba, said introducing aquatic invasive species can lead to a loss of competition, changing the overall biodiversity of the ecosystem. He urges Manitobans to refrain from releasing live fish — including pet fish — into different bodies of water.

“Sometimes, fishers will release live bait, which can cause a problem,” Jeffries said.

The federal government has also taken action to prevent invasive species from wreaking havoc on ecosystems.

The Canada Food Inspection Agencyupdated the conditions for importing invertebrates, such as earthworms, into Canada. People must get a permit and zoo sanitary certificate to import frozen and preserved bait fish that are listed on the federal susceptible species list.

Parks said a common misconception is zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species only cling to boats. Rather, they may also cling to non-motorized watercraft (kayaks, canoes and paddleboards). Sand toys and fishing rods should also be thoroughly cleaned, Parks said.

Although zebra mussels cannot be eradicated from Manitoba’s waters, there are ways to slow the spread. Sightings in unreported areas can be reported onlinet (www.manitoba.ca) or by calling the province’s aquatic invasive species unit (1-877-867-2470).

“Err on the side of caution,” Parks said. “We definitely need more people looking. Manitobans or visitors could be the eyes and ears on the landscape.”

cierra.bettens@freepress.mb.ca

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