Since 2015, Alberta has flexed its muscle on mussels. This boating season, it is increasing its efforts to prevent the spread of the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS).

While provincial officials say the province is 100 per cent free of zebra and quagga mussels, they are fear the increased detections of AIS in Idaho and Manitoba last year increases the risk of their introduction to the province.

The Alberta government has increased the number of watercraft inspection stations, added more dedicated watercraft inspectors, and has established up a new task force. Alberta is also calling on the federal government to conduct mandatory inspections at the United States border.

Its K-9 unit is being expanded to three dog and handler teams and collaborate with the team in Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation on high-priority projects such as invasive species detection.

Watercraft inspections have been mandatory in Alberta since 2015. To minimize risk of moving species among waterbodies, it is illegal to transport a watercraft with the drain plug still in place.

The Aquatic Invasive Species Watercraft Inspections and Decontamination Program will operate seven fixed inspection stations and one roving crew during the 2024 boating season. All stations will be open for through to the September long weekend, with many extending beyond this period.

All passing watercraft, including non-motorized, commercially-hauled and privately-hauled watercraft, must stop at inspection stations every time, regardless of where they are travelling to or from

musselA quagga mussel removed from a watercraft. (photo/AB Gov't)

So why the fuss over these little critters?

Zebra and quagga mussels and other aquatic invasive species can be easily introduced by boats and other watercraft moving across borders. Once introduced to a waterbody, zebra and quagga mussels are extremely difficult to eradicate and can cause millions of dollars in damage to water-operated infrastructure and harm aquatic ecosystems. Latest estimates suggest it could cost the province more than $75 million annually in damages to irrigation infrastructure.

The Fisheries (Alberta) Act lists 52 prohibited aquatic invasive species including fish, plants and invertebrates, as well as has the associated powers for inspection and quarantine when required.

In 2023, Alberta inspected 8,818 boats, 19 of which were confirmed positive for invasive mussels. Seventeen of the boats were coming from Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. Two of the boats were coming from Michigan and Minnesota. Eleven were ultimately heading to final locations in B.C., seven for destinations within Alberta and one for Alaska.

Parks Canada recently announced that it is closing all bodies of water in BC’s Kootenay and Yoho national parks, and restricting watercraft in Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park to slow the spread of invasive species.

Banff National Park has strict protocol in place to help stop the spread of AIS and ask the public to comply with Clean Drain Dry and Certify requirements when recreating in lakes and rivers this summer.

  • Clean all mud, sand, plant, and animal materials from your watercraft or water-related gear. This includes boats, paddleboards, fishing gear, and water toys.
  • Drain coolers, buckets, compartments, and other items that may hold water.
  • Dry for a minimum of 48 hours after use in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, or the territories of Canada, including use in the national parks AND a minimum of 30 days after use in the United States or provinces other than British Columbia, Alberta and/or the territories of Canada.
  • Certify: Obtain an AIS Prevention Permit (self-certification or inspection) before recreating in lakes and rivers. Visit a Parks Canada watercraft inspection station for a free inspection.

Boats with ballast systems are not permitted to launch on Lake Minnewanka. Ballast tanks or bags cannot be fully drained and thus always present a risk of transferring AIS between waterbodies. Towing sports and wake surfing, the main activities boats with ballast systems are used for, continue to be prohibited on Lake Minnewanka.

musselsA quagga mussels fouled propeller from Lake Mead, Arizona. (photo/ National Park Service, Lake Mead, Arizona.