News Manitoba

Key invasive missing from gov’t blacklist

Zach Samborski

Although the Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations seek to ban invasives like zebra mussels (pictured above), they do not cover a species of water flea lurking in Lake Winnipeg (File photo)

Although the Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations seek to ban invasives like zebra mussels (pictured above), they do not cover a species of water flea lurking in Lake Winnipeg (File photo)

The federal government wants to tackle a problem inhabiting Canada’s lakes: the presence of aquatic invasive species (AIS).

According to the government’s proposed Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations, AIS live in waters where they did not naturally originate. AIS can alter their newfound ecosystems, and this affect may lead to reductions or extinctions in native fish populations. The Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations aim to ban the possession, transportation and release of aquatic invasive species. The government plans to ban more than 80 AIS, and among the most notable ones are Asian carps, zebra mussels and quagga mussels.

One area where zebra mussels now lurk is Lake Winnipeg. But according to retired research biologist Alex Salki, zebra mussels aren’t the only species that have taken up residency in the lake. The eubosmina coregoni, a species of water flea, is also inhabiting the north basin.

Salki was surprised to find out that the eubosmina coregoni was not on the list of banned species.

“It was originally in Asia, then it came across the ocean into the Great Lakes, and it finally made its way into Lake Winnipeg,” said Salki, who is also the chair of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation’s Science Advisory Council. “To be honest, we don’t understand the implications of the affect of that species on the ecosystem. That’s going to be something that needs to be examined more closely.”

Aquatic invasive species are a problem dating back to the early 19th century, said Salki.

“Back in the early 1800s, there were invasives coming to North America. We can’t say we had an adequate forewarning.”

Salki said it’s hard to tell how effective the regulations will be.

“At this stage of the game, it appears that the legislation is basically an exercise to facilitate management. There’s no money attached to it, and whether or not this will translate into improved monitoring and protection and enforcement is hard to say.”

Keeping lakes free of aquatic invasive species is an expensive venture, he observed.

“The annual cost of rehabilitating is in the billions of dollars,” said Salki. “We look at the flooding issues in Manitoba, we look at climate change, we look at nutrient issues, and we’re now facing exotic species. All of these things are expensive propositions, and I think that there’s got to be some rationalization of our economic strategies in light of these events.”

Zebra mussels are a threat to Lake Winnipeg because they remove nutrients from the water, Salki observed. The lack of nutrients affects the growth of algae and diminishes the food supply for local fish.

“Ultimately, that affects the fish reproduction in the open waters,” added Salki.

Exactly how Zebra mussels got into Lake Winnipeg is unclear, Salki said, as monitoring of boat traffic along a large stretch of the Red River revealed that none of the boats picked up Zebra mussels. The monitoring started along the U.S. portion of the Red River and ended at the mouth of Lake Winnipeg.

“This is a serious issue for Lake Winnipeg, and education for boaters is going to be critical,” said Salki.

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