The Asian Carp Menace

March 5, 2011

The Detroit Free Press had the following on March 5th:

Feng Yang, the Markham, Ontario, man who pleaded guilty to possession of more than 4,000 pounds of prohibited live carp this week in Windsor, was also convicted in 2006.

Ed Posliff, a Windsor attorney who prosecuted the more recent incident, said Yang had run afoul of invasive species regulations on another earlier occasion as well, but was not convicted.

He is the owner of a fish importation business that supplies restaurants and markets in Ontario, including Toronto. The plea deal prohibits him from possessing invasive species, alive or dead, for three years.

Posliff said provincial authorities have prosecuted about a half dozen violations of the ban since it was imposed in 2005.

Feng Yang’s $50,000 fine and the previous $40,000 fine for the same offence in 2006 are apparently the cost of doing business in the hot live-fish market serving the Asian community.

When I wrote Flying Carp, and the Fun of a Sensational News Story in 2008, I felt it safe to assume that these invaders would be kept out of Ontario lakes by legislation, common sense, and an electric gate in Chicago to prevent the passage of fish up the canal from the Illinois River into Lake Michigan.

Unfortunately it appears as though common sense is non-existent in the urban marketplace. Disturbing rumours refer to the Asian tradition of buying a live fish and letting it go on special occasions to bring good luck. These rumours become more than urban legends when supported by a handful of newspaper reports from Ottawa, Sarnia, and Montreal of exotic and destructive fish caught by fishermen in city waterways. One even ended up in a Toronto fountain.

Bigheaded carp is the generic term for silver and bighead carp, imported to the United States from Asia in the 1970′s to clear catfish ponds and sewage lagoons of algae. Since then the two species have overrun the Mississippi River and spread north up the Illinois River as far as Chicago.

The spectacular jumping habits of nervous silver carp are the stuff of YouTube legend. When disturbed by the sound of an outboard motor, the fish leap wildly into the air, often landing in the boat or striking passengers. This makes for hilarious video footage, but water skiing and even small boat operation are seriously hampered by their presence. One observer likened a boat ride in an infested area to “getting hit by flying bowling balls at random intervals.”

Even more devastating, though, are the exotic carps’ enthusiastic feeding and breeding habits.

Duane C. Chapman, USGS Fisheries Biologist, saw my 2008 article and sent along a number of clarifications based upon his own research with bigheaded carp.

First, Chapman pointed out that there is no such thing as a triploid (genetically sterile) silver or bighead carp. Only for the very different grass carp have scientists developed a sterile variant.

The reason for the alarm is that these carp have a reputation for eating their way through the entire ecosystem of a lake or river. The only disagreement has to do with how quickly they can do it. Recent studies have claimed that a female silver or bighead can lay one or two million eggs at a hatch. The fish reach spawning maturity early, and they compete relentlessly with native species. Chapman’s current research concerns the analysis of how much damage the silver and bighead carp have done to the areas they have invaded.

“I have data … that shows that zooplankton populations in the low velocity habitats used by bighead and silver carps (together, known as the “bigheaded carps”) are MUCH lower than prior to the invasion. These things do not bode well for native fishes, especially fishes that require the same habitats as bigheaded carps and that are planktivorous throughout their life (like paddlefish, bigmouth buffalo, and the important preyfish gizzard shad)….Time will tell what we see in the future. Predictions are tough, although risk assessments on these fish are uniform in the opinion that it would be risky to have these fish invade.”

Chapman did specify, however, that Illinois catfish fishing is still world-class, so the invaders haven’t completely devastated the river ecology.

But we don’t want them here.  Ontario’s waterways are the heart of our tourism industry. We can’t allow them to be destroyed because some stubborn individual insists upon smuggling in destructive fish to make a buck – or other, equally stubborn individuals let fish go out of carelessness or nostalgia.

A few minutes on YouTube will produce a nauseating explanation for the live-fish market.  There is plenty of footage there of partially-cooked bighead carp eaten alive by enthusiastic diners.  It’s bad enough to ship these fish for days in tanks with no water; to my mind it’s even worse to deep fry all but the head and then pick the flesh away from its bones while the victim looks at you from the platter.

Eating partially-cooked fish alive is cruel and barbaric.  Canadian voters have the clout to insist upon enforcement of the ban on the sale of live food fish.

Legislators have become remarkably draconian in their rules for the seizure of assets of accused drug traffickers.  To put an end to this despicable live-carp market, we need a law which ensures similar asset seizure for those caught trafficking in live fish.–man-fined-50-000-for-importing-asian-carp


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