It's the Law!

The Alberta Government has recently enacted changes to legislation that will help to protect our provincial water bodies from of the infestation of aquatic invasive species. Effective immediately, when highway signage indicates that a watercraft inspection station is open, it is mandatory that all carriers of water-based vessels must report to the onsite inspectors to have their boats, trailers and other water-related equipment checked for invasive species such as the zebra and quagga mussels. It’s the law.

Bypassing an open inspection station while carrying a water-based vessel is in violation of the Fisheries Act and can result in fines to individuals of up to $100,000 or 12 months in prison, in addition to creative sentencing orders that may be issued to convicted persons at the discretion of the courts.

To review these legislation changes, visit the Legislative Assembly of Alberta website at:

Ministerial Order as per Section 32 (14) of Fisheries (Alberta) Act

We appreciate your compliance with these new changes. By working together we can help protect our water resources.

View the video below to learn more about mandatory watercraft inspections.

Watercraft Inspection Stations: What to Expect

Overview

Environment and Parks (AEP) will be operating numerous inspection stations across the province during the boating season. The majority of these stations will be found near border crossings at Commercial Vehicle Inspection stations alongside major highways.

  • Large digital signs and highway road signage will indicate when the station is open. Boaters must stop for an inspection.
  • In concert with these stations, there will be inspection crews that are roving around the province, targeting high boat traffic areas.

Initial Assessment

The goal of a watercraft inspector is to effectively establish that a vessel is free of aquatic invasive species in a timely fashion. When arriving at a station, boat transporters are required by law to answer a few simple questions to help establish the risk factor of their water equipment and then will be welcomed to participate in the inspection process with the Watercraft Inspector.

  • When you pull up to one of our mandatory Watercraft Inspection Stations you will be greeted by a watercraft inspector.
  • Our inspectors will ask to inspect your watercraft and ask you a series of questions that are designed to help them assess the risk the watercraft may pose in regards to aquatic invasive species.
  • All information will be collected using digital tablets. The information collected is also designed to help us understand boater behaviour and movement – where the majority of boats are coming from and where they are going.
  • This information will be assessed by our GIS experts to help us better plan for the next season.

Watercraft Inspection

An inspection of your watercraft and trailer will be conducted. Watercraft Inspectors will be looking at all areas of the boat that could harbour invasive mussels, this includes but is not limited to:

  • Anchor lines
  • Bilge areas
  • Hull
  • Life jackets
  • Live wells
  • Motor
  • Trailer

You may be asked to remove ballast bags, demonstrate that internal holds are dry, and to engage bilge/ballast pumps if applicable.

Your help and cooperation with accessing these areas will be appreciated and will help to expedite your visit. If you have any questions during your inspection, please do not hesitate to ask your Watercraft Inspector.

Inspection Results

If deemed low risk (e.g. has not been mussel infested areas) and your watercraft is clean of any debris, mud, plants, drained (plugs pulled and empty), and dry (no standing water), you should be on your way relatively quickly with a Proof of Inspection Form which details the results of your inspection.

  • Keep the form in case you are asked by a Fishery Officer or Fishery Guardian when your watercraft was last inspected.
  • Always remember to Clean, Drain, Dry your boat. Not only does it help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species but it helps to facilitate the inspection process and should save you time at the inspection station.

If zebra or quagga mussels are suspected or found on your watercraft

  • Our inspectors will inform the owner, explain why it is a concern and the process moving forward.
  • Inspectors will also contact the Aquatic Invasive Species Hotline and have a Fishery Officer dispatched who will assess the situation further and decide what actions need to be taken to mitigate the risk.

Decontamination of Watercraft

If a decontamination is required the next steps can vary depending on the location and situation.

  • A decontamination is a thorough cleaning of the watercraft with high pressure, hot water (60 degrees Celsius). Decontamination by this method is the only way to effectively kill and remove invasive mussels.
  • The decontamination is performed by trained staff.
  • The actual decontamination process and time can vary based on the complexity of the boat and the degree of infestation.
  • After the decontamination the boat may be subject to quarantine, depending on the situation.

Remember, watercraft inspections are now mandatory in Alberta. All passing watercraft, including non-motorized, commercially-hauled an privately-hauled watercraft, MUST stop every time, regardless of where you are coming from or going to. It’s the law!

We are taking these steps to protect Alberta waters from harmful aquatic invasive species that pose great threats to native fisheries, water quality, local economies, and industry.

Sniffer Dogs

During the predicted high volume times, the Watercraft Inspectors will employ the use of sniffer dogs. More information on that program can be found below.

View the video below to learn more about the sniffer dog program:

Contact

If you have questions about the Fisheries Act legislation changes, watercraft inspections or aquatic invasive species please call:

Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Conservation K-9 Program

Alberta’s Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Conservation K-9 Program is part of the provincial aquatic invasive species watercraft inspection initiative.

This program employs sniffer dogs at watercraft inspection stations in Alberta to detect zebra and quagga mussel infestations on watercraft entering Alberta.

Legislation or Legal Mandate for this Program

The AIS Conservation K-9 Program supports watercraft inspections required under:

  • Fisheries (Alberta) Amendment Act (2015)
  • Ministerial Order as per Section 32 (14) of the Fisheries (Alberta) Act

Program News and Updates

How the AIS Conservation K-9 Program Works

Program Development

In 2014, the Government of Alberta partnered with the Flathead Basin Commission in Montana and the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association to pilot the use of mussel-detecting dogs at watercraft inspection stations in Alberta and Montana.

This was a Crown Managers Partnership initiative, which identified the absence of Aquatic Invasive Species as an ecological indicator of good health in the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem. Visit the Crown Manager’s Partnership website at:

This pilot study investigated incorporating detection dogs in ongoing efforts to identify watercraft carrying zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and quagga mussels (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis) at checkpoints in Alberta and Montana.

The objectives were:

  • Train dogs to detect adult zebra and quagga mussels by scent on watercraft
  • Demonstrate the teams readiness to deploy
  • Deploy trained dogs to watercraft checkpoints in Montana and Alberta to continue assessments in real deployment scenarios
  • Synthesize training and deployment outcomes in consideration of large-scale deployment

During this pilot, the non-profit organization Working Dogs for Conservation was contracted to train their working dogs to detect mussels on watercraft. The trained teams spent 13 days on either side of the border at inspection stations (24 dog search days as multiple teams were used).

Canine Training and Standards

The characteristics essential for a working dog include:

  • high ball drive
  • ability to focus
  • high energy

Less than 1 in 1000 dogs has what it takes to make a working dog. The Alberta program dogs were recruited across North American shelters and rescue agencies (as they do not tend to make good family pets).

The teams were trained by Working Dogs for Conservation and Lt. Lynette Shimek of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and all three successfully passed external certification to the standards used by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Initial training involved 140 hours of a specialized handler and canine bootcamp where the handlers were matched with their canines. The canines learned to detect the odour, pinpoint the exact location, and display an alert. The handlers we trained to watch the dogs for change of behaviour and how to methodically guide the dogs around the boat.

Prior to deployment, four ‘Working Dogs for Conservation’ canines were trained and passed detection standards developed by California Department of Fish and Wildlife for the detection of Dreissenid mussels.

A controlled trial was also conducted during this pilot to compare the performance of dogs and trained human inspectors. During this trial, the dogs found 100% of the watercraft fouled by mussels during each iteration, while humans missed up to 25% of watercraft harbouring mussels.

Canine Deployment in Alberta

Due to the success of this pilot and the comparison trial, Alberta contracted Working Dogs for Conservation to help create its own Conservation K-9 program in 2015 to incorporate as a permanent aspect of the inspections program.

Three canines were recruited to join the Government of Alberta as full time employees. All three handlers of the dogs are employees of Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP).

Following successful certification, the 3 teams have been deployed provincially and will focus their attention at the highest risk border stations in the province.

What a Dog Supported Watercraft Inspection Looks Like

If your watercraft is undergoing a dog-supported inspection, here is how it works:

  1. The dog and its handler always begin their inspection at the bow (the front of the watercraft), and make their way along the craft until they reach the stern (the rear of the craft).

    The dog will be directed to begin the search at the hitch and trailer as it makes its way around the craft. The search will include everywhere within the waterline or where water will drain out, such as through hull fittings and bilge plugs.

    Dogs wear booties so they don’t scratch the craft.

  2. The dog is trained to search for the odour of mussels; once the odour is detected, the dog will display a change of behaviour the handler is trained to watch for. Once the dog decides he has found the scent, he will display a passive alert by sitting down.
  3. The handler will ask the dog to pinpoint exactly where the odour is located on the boat so it can be verified. The dog will pinpoint the exact spot with his nose.
  4. Once verified by the handler, the dog will receive the reward – a special toy to engage in play with the handler. The only time the dog can play with this toy is for this work purpose, so it remains very special. These dogs do not need a paycheque, they just work for the toy!

Detection Success Rates

In 2015, the canines inspected 667 boats after a late season start following recruitment and training.

Video: Meet the Conservation K9 Unit

Watch the Conservation K-9 Team Dogs as they sniff watercraft for invasive quagga and zebra mussels.

Video: Boat inspection stations at Alberta Lakes

In this episode of Let’s Go Outdoors, watch the K-9 Program in action at the Sylvan Lake Inspection Station.

Video: We Let the Dogs Out!

View the video below to learn more about the K-9 program: