Clean. Drain. Dry.
This is the protocol for ensuring Aquatic Invasive Species do not spread from one body of water to another.
The province is highlighting this and other initiatives for Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness week, May 9th to 13th. With 100,000 waterbodies to enjoy in Saskatchewan, residents and visitors are reminded to take the necessary steps to ensure aquatic invasive species (AIS) are not introduced to the waters in our province. These plants, fish and invertebrates can damage aquatic habitat and fisheries, as well as power generation and water infrastructure. Once established, aquatic invasive species can be impossible to eliminate, and cost millions of dollars to manage each year.
Jeri Geiger, Team Lead for the Aquatic Invasive Species program with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, said the tools to manage and control invasive species are limited.
"Oftentimes there aren't any tools at all, so prevention is really critical because once they're here, there's often little or nothing that you can do, and you're kind of just faced with the problem once they're established," she explained. "So you know we focus on prevention and really want to raise people's awareness with respect to invasive species."
She said the province has come a long way with respect to its watercraft inspection program.
"I think most people here in the province are aware that we do have a watercraft inspection program to help inspect watercraft to prevent the introduction of things like invasive mussels, but there are so many other invasive species to be concerned about, and some other pathways that we really want to highlight, and so those are some of the things we're focusing on this week with Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness Week."
It's not just boats that need to be cleaned, drained, and dried before transport.
"Canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, lifejackets, tubes, anchor ropes, angling gear, basically anything that goes into the water should be properly cleaned, drained completely, and dried before it's ever used in another water body, because you risk moving and invasive species from one waterbody to another. Another thing to note, for watercraft is that all plugs drain, plugs for watercraft need to be removed for transport, so if you're traveling on the highway, that drain plug needs to be removed to ensure that any water in the boat is being drained."
The ministry's watercraft inspection programs and legislation are set up such that, if you encounter a watercraft inspection station, you are required to stop, even if your watercraft is not motorized.
"It is mandatory to stop and submit to inspection. You have to be inspected to ensure you're free of AIS," she explained. "There are fines associated with failing to stop, so if you do not stop, and you drive past an inspection station while you're pulling a watercraft, you risk being fined."
"Likewise, if you've got a drain plug in your boat and you're transporting your boat on the highway, you risk being fined for that as well. The risks are so high with invasive species. Once they're here, there's often very little we can do, so that's why we put so much focus on preventing them from getting here in the first place."
Geiger said this is why awareness is so important, and the onus is on boat owners to be responsible for learning the best management practices.
"Making sure they're following the 'Clean Drain Dry' method every time that they use their watercraft and their equipment, as well as it goes beyond their boat and into things like their life jackets and things like that," she noted. "Really, anything that can store water needs to be dried properly."
Your boat must be completely clean, which means free of any plants attached free of any organisms, like snails or mussels.
Mud, noted Geiger, can be a concern because mud carries seeds or can contain eggs from things like snails, so it needs to be completely cleaned.
"All compartments and all equipment need to be properly drained because water can carry larva or eggs from different species, so as long as it's drained completely and then dried completely, those three steps will effectively prevent the movement or new introductions of species."
If you do find your watercraft has some invasive species attached, she said, such as zebra mussels, hot water should get rid of them.
"You don't need any soaps involved, because really, you're just preventing the spread at that point."
Geiger said a national campaign they're promoting this week is the 'Don't let it loose', which brings awareness to other means of introduction and spread, such as, "live food, or release of aquarium pets and plants, water garden, plants and pets, things like goldfish, koi, the release of live bait, and then the movement of other species like sportfishing for new fishing opportunities."
"We want to just make sure that you're never, ever releasing any organisms, so that could be anywhere from a snail, turtle, a fish, anything like that into the environment, or plants, as well, into the environment, because they can quite easily become established in our water bodies here in the province," implored Geiger.
"Same thing with live food," she reminded. "Some folks might think they're doing the crab at the grocery store a favour by taking it home and then releasing it, and unfortunately, most of those species either won't survive, so you're really not helping them, or they risk introducing a new invasive species."
She said there are many more environmentally safe ways to dispose of unwanted pets.
If you do find or suspect that you have found an invasive species, call the Saskatchewan Turn-In Poachers line at 1-800-667-7561.
More information about aquatic invasive species can be found at saskatchewan.ca/invasive-species.