Responsible Recreation in Alberta’s Waters

by Maggie Romuld, in collaboration with Communications Committee member Jass Baidwan

There are lots of ways to enjoy the river on a summer day. Photo credit: Maggie Romuld.

As an organization, SEAWA recognizes its responsibility to help protect the delicate balance of our aquatic ecosystems while still encouraging residents and visitors to explore and enjoy scenic and wild spaces. We also believe that each of us has a personal responsibility for the sustainable use of our resources.  When it comes to water-based recreation in Alberta, whether on the water or on the shore, there are both unwritten rules and firmly established laws about what we should or should not do. As the days get longer, and you head outdoors to the water’s edge, we hope you will use the following suggestions to guide your decisions.

Canoeing and kayaking:

  • Respect aquatic life: Lots of animals live in, on, or near the water. Treat them with respect. 
  • Be aware: Rivers and lakes have been used for centuries by First Nations people and explorers. If you see a good landing site, it has probably been used many times before! Treat these places as culturally or archaeologically sensitive sites and do not damage or remove anything.
  • Explore beaches carefully: There are limited landing sites along the river. If you must land your boat, pick a non-vegetated spot that will have the least impact on shoreline plants. Areas with gravel or small rocks are best because they limit impact and tend to have fewer insects. Watch where you step. 
  • Leave what you find: Do not remove anything from the beach. Rocks, sand, and gravel provide essential habitat for beach dwellers, and small shoreline plants provide critical habitat for small fish and other aquatic life.
  • Keep it clean: Garbage can injure or kill aquatic animals. Pack out what you have packed in, and if you see someone else’s garbage, pick it up. Never bury your trash along the shore, and never pour liquids or throw thrash in the water. 
  • Go before you go: Please use a restroom before venturing out on the water. Disposing of human waste can be a problem in water wilderness areas because what is deposited on the shore generally ends up draining into the water. Shorelines of freshwater bodies should never be used as a toilet – carry out all solid human waste.
  • Know the law: In Alberta, laws have been put in place to ensure that watercraft use does not result in the transfer of aquatic invasive species into our waterbodies. It is illegal to transport watercraft with the drain plug still in place and watercraft users must demonstrate that their watercraft has been drained of standing water. Those who fail to comply may be subject to a $172 fine. Also, by law, watercraft users in Alberta must report into watercraft inspection stations when highway signs indicate stations are open. Bypassing an open inspection station while transporting a watercraft is a violation of Alberta’s Fisheries Act, and can result in a $310 fine. (For more information, see the article below on mandatory watercraft inspections).

Fishing:

  • Stop the spread of invasive aquatics: Clean, drain, and dry your gear after each use to ensure that no water, mud, fish, or fish parts are moved from one waterbody to the next.
  • Watch for invasive fish species: Invasive fish species like goldfish and Prussian carp have been illegally released into Alberta waters and have established breeding populations. If you see or catch an invasive species call the 24/7 Alberta hotline 1-855-336-BOAT (2628).
  • Prevent the spread of diseases: Whirling disease, a parasite that infects salmonid fish, has been found in the Bow, Oldman, Red Deer, and North Saskatchewan watersheds. Whirling disease can spread naturally, but also through the movement of spores on gear, infected fish, and fish parts. Avoid using felt-soled waders and dispose of fish parts in the garbage to help avoid further spread.

Photo credit: Government of Alberta

Off-Highway Vehicles:

  • Keep your wheels out of the water: Wheeled or tracked vehicles are not allowed on beds or shores of watercourses, wetlands or waterbodies. Driving in these areas produces harmful ruts and erosion problems. In addition, fine sediments stirred up by tires are harmful to fish, and wheels may deposit contaminants and transport invasive aquatic species.
  • Check the weather: Avoid wet trails – most trail damage occurs after rainfall and snowmelt when trails are wet and soft.
  • Plan your route: Know your crossings; you may only cross wetlands, creeks or rivers at bridges or lawful crossings.
  • Prevent the spread of invasive weed seeds: Remove any vegetation or clumps of mud or debris from the vehicle and thoroughly clean the underside of vehicles, tires, and parts before moving to another area.
  • Reduce erosion: Use low pressure, non-aggressive tires, and travel in small groups to minimize soil compaction and damage to vegetation.
  • Respect reclamation and reforestation efforts: SEAWA has been actively restoring some sites within our watershed, traffic in these areas could kill shrub and tree seedlings.

People transporting canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must also stop at inspection stations, such as this one at Jumping Pound west of Calgary. Photo credit: Alberta Environment and Parks

Mandatory Watercraft Inspection:

The Alberta government has a website that clearly explains what to expect at the watercraft inspection stations that operate during the provincial boating season. The following is an abridged version of the information in Watercraft Inspection Stations: What to Expect. You are encouraged to visit the website to learn more.

Do you have to stop?

  • When highway signs indicate that a watercraft inspection station is open, it is mandatory that carriers of all water-based vessels report to the onsite inspectors to have their boats, trailers, and other water-related equipment checked for invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels.
  • In addition to seasonally permanent stations, mobile inspection crews will be moving around the province targeting high boat traffic areas.
  • In the SEAWA watershed, a permanent inspection station is located at Dunmore.

Initial assessment

  • When you pull up to an inspection station you will be greeted by a watercraft inspector.
  • 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 with regard to aquatic invasive species.
  • All information will be collected using digital tablets. The data collected is also designed to help understand boater behaviour and movement – where the majority of boats are coming from and where they are going.

Watercraft inspection

  • An inspection of your watercraft and trailer will be conducted. 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, and trailer
  • You may be asked to remove ballast bags, demonstrate that internal holds are dry, and to engage bilge/ballast pumps if applicable.

Inspection results

  • If deemed low risk (e.g., the boat 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.

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

  • Inspectors will 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 decontamination is required, the next steps can vary depending on the location and situation. The decontamination is performed by trained staff.
  • 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 kill and remove invasive mussels effectively.
  • 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.