Ontario is targeting the Asian carp and ash borer beetle by reintroducing its Invasive Species Act first proposed last February but killed off by the spring election.
The legislation is the first of its kind in Canada and would give the province powers to intervene earlier with a wide range of potentially dangerous fish, plants and animals.
Measures include “rapid response” actions like preventing the movement of contaminated firewood, bans on possessing and transporting certain invasive species, and modernized inspection systems.
“If they get into the Great Lakes then we all know we have a major problem on our hands,” Natural Resources Minister Bill Mauro said Wednesday of the Asian carp.
The fish have proliferated in U.S. inland waters, breeding rapidly and consuming huge amounts of plankton needed by other fish as well as posing a danger to boaters with their mid-air leaps. Some rivers have been overwhelmed.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is trying a number of measures to keep the fish from entering Lake Michigan near Chicago, where prevention efforts are concentrated.
Mauro, who is planning a trip to see those efforts first-hand, said there are huge environmental and economic risks if invasive species become more established in the province.
Grass carp, for example, were among four species imported from Asia decades ago to control algae and unwanted plants in controlled settings such as sewage treatment lagoons. They escaped and now choke the Mississippi and other rivers and lakes in the Midwest U.S.
It is already illegal to possess live Asian carp in Ontario.
Mauro also cited the mountain pine beetle, which had a “huge impact” in the B.C. forest industry and is moving eastward.
Mauro said his legislation is supported by groups including Environmental Defence, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and Ducks Unlimited Canada.
But NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she’s concerned Mauro’s ministry isn’t doing enough on the front lines to fight invasive species.
“It’s great to have legislation, but if you’re cutting inspectors at the MNR, which they’re doing . . . it’s a bit after the fact,” she said. “There needs to be a much more proactive approach.”
Mauro said he’s willing to take the bill to a legislative committee for further study when and if it passes second reading in the legislature.
“If there’s ways to enhance this to make it better, we’re open.”
Ontario is already contending with the zebra mussel invasion of several years ago as well as longhorn beetles, the ash borer beetle, the European common reed, an invasive perennial grass that is damaging ecosystems, and the round goby, a bottom-dwelling fish that can be found now in all five Great Lakes.
The province currently relies on a mix of 20 federal and provincial acts in dealing with invasive species but none was designed to specifically counter the threats now being faced, officials said.
Progressive Conservative MPP Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk) has pushed for laws requiring that any Asian carp shipped to Ontario should be gutted, not just packed in ice whole in case they survive.