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Saskatchewan unveils new strategy to fight aquatic invasive species

Zebra mussels cover much of the sand on Pelican Beach, just north of Gimli, Man. Jordan Pearn / Global News

Saskatchewan has unveiled a new comprehensive strategy to keep aquatic invasive species (AIS) like zebra mussels and quagga mussels out of the province.

To date, AIS has not been found in Saskatchewan. Environment Minister Dustin Duncan wants to keep it that way.

“This strategy emphasizes the need for collaboration and co-ordination with provincial and federal government agencies, non-government organizations and neighbouring jurisdictions to prevent the introduction and spread of high-risk aquatic invasive species,” Duncan said Thursday in a statement.

READ MORE: Aquatic invasive species pose risk to Saskatchewan waterbodies

Foremost in the new strategy is preventing AIS from entering Saskatchewan waterways, and if that happens, responding quickly to prevent AIS from establishing or spreading.

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AIS can have a severe economic impact on communities and the province, according to reports.

In 2015, the South Saskatchewan River watershed stewards estimated it could cost the province and municipalities between $15- and $30-million yearly in maintenance costs alone.

Alberta estimates it could cost $75-million yearly if AIS infested the province. Ontario pays an estimated $75- to $91-million each year to deal with AIS in its waterways, including the impact on power generation, drinking water systems and water management structures.

Click to play video: 'Meet Major: The latest addition to B.C.’s mussel defence program' Meet Major: The latest addition to B.C.’s mussel defence program
Meet Major: The latest addition to B.C.’s mussel defence program – May 31, 2019

One step Saskatchewan has taken to prevent AIS from entering the province is watercraft inspections.

Saskatchewan and its partners tested 123 waterbodies for AIS during 2019, with all results coming back negative and more than 3,100 watercraft were checked.

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“We recently announced that no invasive mussels had been detected in Saskatchewan waters in 2019,” Duncan said.

“That is a positive step, and it speaks to the approach we’ve been taking in Saskatchewan.  But we know more work needs to be done, and that diligence on this front needs to be unrelenting for us to remain free from this threat.”

READ MORE: No invasive mussels reported in Saskatchewan during 2019

The new strategy will have the province take a science-based approach to risk analysis and monitoring to assess threats associated with aquatic invasive species.

It will also allow the government to add new fish species to the province’s prohibited fish species list when they are identified as a high-risk threat.

The key, though, officials said, is education and the environment ministry said it will continue to develop campaigns to raise awareness of the risk of AIS.

Aquatic invasive species have been found in three provinces and zebra mussel larva has previously been found in Cedar Lake, Man., which is part of the Saskatchewan River system.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan waterbodies remain free of invasive mussels

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Zebra and quagga mussels are almost impossible to eradicate once established in waterways.

It is illegal to bring prohibited aquatic invasive species into Saskatchewan.

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