Fishbrain's interview with Canada's Invasive Species Centre

Fishbrain sit's down with the Canada's Invasive Species Centre to learn more about their mission and to discuss the impacts invasive species have on fishing.

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Fishbrain's interview with Canada's Invasive Species Centre

Banner PC: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Q What is the central mission of the invasive species centre?

The Invasive Species Centre connects stakeholders, knowledge, and technology to prevent and reduce the spread of invasive species that harm Canada’s environment, economy, and society. 

Incorporated as a non-for-profit in 2011, the Invasive Species Centre is a hub for collaboration and knowledge sharing. The Invasive Species Centre is a respected partner and leader in invasive species science, education, and action.

Q: Which species are of primary concern to the centre?

In terms of aquatic invasive species, we do a lot of work on outreach and education of Asian carps with the goal of preventing their entry into Canadian waters. We also do a lot of work on zebra and quagga mussels with the goal of preventing further spread to lakes within Ontario that are not invaded, and to other provinces in Canada. We also conduct work on European water chestnut and some other aquatic invasive plants of concern. 

We do a lot of work with terrestrial invasive species, including invasive plants, pests and pathogens. Some of the high-risk species we’re focusing on right now are spotted lanternfly, hemlock woolly adelgid, and oak wilt just to name a few.

Q: What is your role at the centre?

I am the Aquatic Invasive Species Specialist. My major projects are managing our Asian Carp Canada program which aims to prevent the introduction of Asian carps into the Canadian waters of the Great Lakes and we do this through education and outreach to our target audience of anglers. I also work on one of our community action programs that focuses on zebra and quagga mussel prevention, and I take on a lot of public questions on aquatic invasive species of any kind! 

Q: What are some of the ways invasives make it into a territory, or water way?

There are a number of ways that an invasive species can be introduced. One example is through ballast water. Ballast water is what is used to balance ships as they cross through waters. The water is drawn in at the ships origin, and must be pumped out at its destination prior to unloading the cargo. Some organisms can survive within this water as it crosses and reaches its destination, including potential invasive species. There are new regulations in place to prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species through ballast water. 

Another example is the boating pathway. Invasive species like zebra mussels or aquatic invasive plants could be hiding on your boat, or even in wells and could be transferred between water bodies. Some examples of where invasive species could be hiding on your boat are:

Photo Credit: Invasive Species Centre

Another example is through live bait. Many anglers use live bait and this can lead to the accidental introduction of aquatic invasive species. 

Q: Which water based species are of primary concern?

A primary concern right now is Asian carps which is the collective term we use to refer to four species of invasive fishes: Bighead Carp, Silver Carp, Grass Carp and Black Carp. Asian carps are currently established in waterways throughout the U.S. and agencies across the U.S. and Canada are working together to prevent their establishment into the Great Lakes. In areas where they are established in the Mississippi River Basin specifically, they’re making up about 90% of the biomass. They have the potential to cause serious economic and ecological damage to the Great Lakes, which is why we’re actively working to raise awareness and prevent their introduction and establishment.

Photo (Silver Carp jumping) Credit: T. Lawrence, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Another concern of ours is zebra and quagga mussels. Though they are established throughout Ontario, we’re now working on preventing their spread to lakes not currently infested throughout the province, as well as preventing their spread to other provinces across Canada. Zebra and Quagga mussels form dense colonies and can clog intake pipes and boat motors. They filter the water of plankton and outcompete native species for resources and their filtering promotes toxic algal blooms. Their sharp shells are also a hazard for swimmers!

Photo Credit: Invasive Species Centre

Q: Are you government affiliated, or other?

We are a non-profit organization. Many of our partners are government agencies and we have government funded projects. We really value our government partnerships and the support they provide. It allows us to carry out some really important work. 

Q: How destructive can invasive species be to a water system?

Invasive species can have severe negative impacts to aquatic ecosystems. When an invader establishes, they often outcompete native species for food and resources, they can reduce water quality, and they can carry diseases and parasites, all which impact native species and can reduce biodiversity. For example, zebra and quagga mussels filter the water of plankton, which is the basis of the aquatic food web and a vital resource in aquatic ecosystems. This filtering can lead to toxic algal blooms.

Invasive species are very adaptable, and often have no natural predators to control their populations, so they’re able to easily outcompete native species for food. An example of this is in areas of the Mississippi River Basin where Asian carps are established, they are making up almost 90% of the biomass in these waterways. This is one of the reasons why we’re actively trying to prevent their establishment in the Great Lakes. 

Q: How can the average angler help in reporting and stopping the spread of invasives?

There are lots of things anglers can do! One thing is to be aware of the rules and regulations in the area that you’re fishing. There could be rules and regulations related to transportation of boats, use of live bait, and more in terms of prevention of invasive species introduction.

It is important that anglers make sure not to dump their bait. In Ontario, it is illegal to dump your bait within 30 meters of a waterbody. There are also bait management zones in place to help prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species.

Anglers should also ensure that they clean, drain, and dry any boats, watercraft or other gear when moving between waterbodies. This can also help prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invaders, including those that may not be visible. The recreational boater pathway is now regulated in Ontario so it is required by law that you clean your boat, trailer and gear before moving into another waterbody.

Lastly, knowing how to identify high-risk invaders and having the reporting information available is key. You can find the reporting information for your province or territory on our website. For example, we encourage anglers fishing in Ontario to report sightings of invasive species to EDDMapS, the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (via the app or, or to the Ontario hotline at 1-800-563-7711. The more eyes on the water we have, the better! 

Q: What are some of the tactics the centre uses to combat aquatic invasives? 

A lot of our work focuses on outreach and education. We want to have as many eyes on the water as possible, and so targeting anglers is one way we do that. We want to equip anglers with the knowledge and tools to report aquatic invasive species and prevent their introduction and spread.

We do this through working with awesome partners (like Fish brain). We utilize social media as a tool and post a lot on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We host public information sessions and webinars as well which gives people the opportunity to learn from experts and ask questions.

We also do some hands-on work too. We have a volunteer-based sampling program in Ontario, IsampleON, where we collect water samples and analyze them for environmental DNA of aquatic invasive species, and presence or absence of zebra and quagga mussels. We’ve also recently undertaken some management work on an aquatic invasive plant, European water chestnut. 

Q: What are some examples of aquatic invasives that have caused serious problems for fisheries?

Some examples are zebra and quagga mussels, sea lamprey, and round goby.

Zebra and quagga mussels filter the water of plankton, which is a vital food source for many native species. It’s the basis of the aquatic food chain, and in one way or another, everything depends on plankton. This filtering has also caused toxic algal blooms that decrease water quality. 

Without control efforts in place, sea lamprey were killing over 100 million pounds of fish annually in the Great Lakes. 

Q: Are there any examples of an aquatic invasive that has been thoroughly dealt with and a watershed returned back to normal?

Once an invasive species establishes in a high density, it becomes increasingly difficult and sometimes not possible eradicate it. The best example of a successful management program that exists today is the control of sea lamprey. When sea lamprey were introduced into the Great Lakes basin, they were killing over 100 million pounds of fish annually, which was over five times the commercial harvest in the Upper Great Lakes alone. Fortunately, scientists and natural resource managers were able to find an effective control method in the form of a lampricide, as well as using traps and barriers. These methods have allowed populations of sea lamprey to be reduced by 90%. However, this isn’t the case for all species that establish, and this is now management that will always be required to keep populations of sea lamprey at a manageable level, so the takeaway here is that prevention is more cost effective than control. I also can’t say for sure that the ecosystem has returned to normal because of this, and we also have some other new invaders since then too that pose a threat to the health of the ecosystem. 

Photo Credit: M. Gaden, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Q: You discussed some of the natural damages that invasives can cause, but what are some of the economic damages that can occur, as well?

Invasive species can have serious economic impacts. For example, the Great Lakes contribute $13.8 billion to the Canadian economy annually through commercial, recreational and subsistence fishing, water use, water-based hunting, oil and gas, commercial navigation, recreational boating, beach/lakefront use, and wildlife viewing. These activities could be impacted by aquatic invasive species. For example, a reduction in biodiversity could result in a reduction in populations of popular angling species. Anglers contribute a large amount of money to the economy through fishing licenses, purchase of fishing equipment, and tourism. A reduction in recreational angling opportunities could also have an impact on businesses and livelihoods that depend on development of this sector, like bait and tackle shops.  

A good resource to learn more about this is on our Asian Carp Canada website, where we summarize some of the potential economic impacts to the Great Lakes as a result of Asian carps if they were to establish. 

Q: Is there any way Fishbrain can help with these important issues?

Definitely! Encouraging your audience to learn how to identify and report suspected sightings of invasive species in their area, and to learn the rules and regulations in place to help prevent aquatic invasive species introduction and spread is a really great way that Fish brain can help. As mentioned, one of our key target audiences is anglers and Fishbrain has a large network of anglers so it’s a great opportunity to get important information to the people who are out on the water the most.

Now let's go fishing and please don't bring any invasive species.

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