News / USA

Scientists, Lawmakers Declare War on Invasive Leaping Fish

This December 2009 photo shows Illinois River silver carp jumping out of the water after being disturbed by the sounds of watercraft.
This December 2009 photo shows Illinois River silver carp jumping out of the water after being disturbed by the sounds of watercraft.
For about two decades, several species of fish commonly known as Asian carp have been swimming up the Mississippi River. The non-native fish, imported to help control algae in commercial fish farms, have been gobbling up food native fish need to survive. The U.S. government is spending millions to keep these invasive species from migrating through Chicago to the Great Lakes. And now the battle has spread north to Minnesota. However, critics say an all-out war on the Asian carp could be expensive and biologically unsound.

Tales of 14-kilogram fish leaping into boats and injuring anglers would probably be just a myth if it weren't for YouTube, the online site where fisherman have posted dozens of “flying Asian carp” videos, and a slew of TV news reports.

While you might expect sport fishers would be delighted to have their catch literally jumping into their boats, it is actually the last thing anglers in Minnesota want. They're worried by the news that commercial fishermen caught Asian carp in the Mississippi River, in southeastern Minnesota, this past March. In April, another turned up in a tributary nearby.

"To me, it's surprising we haven't seen more," says fisheries biologist Peter Sorensen from the University of Minnesota. 
Click on map to enlargeClick on map to enlarge
x
Click on map to enlarge
Click on map to enlarge

According to Sorensen, there are millions of Asian carp just downstream in Iowa. Some can top 45 kilograms. They’re big eaters and compete with native fish for food, which is why Sorensen he has declared war on Asian carp.

"I've been to areas of the world where there's not much but invasive species, and it's pretty pathetic," he says. "And I think that's really tragic."  

But scientists still know very little about how Asian carp move and reproduce. At his lab, Sorensen has several huge tanks full of the fish. He hopes to find a way to interrupt their sense of smell or spawning patterns, anything to keep them from migrating and breeding. But in the meantime, he says it's vital to prevent the fish from spreading farther north.  

Sorensen fears Asian carp will move into Minnesota’s famed 10,000 lakes region and decimate native fish. He says the best way to slow Asian carp is to close the northern end of the Mississippi River to boat traffic.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced a measure in Congress that would allow a lock in Minneapolis to be shut down if just one adult Asian carp is found nearby. The Minnesota lawmaker says the fish are a major threat to her state’s tourism industry, which relies heavily on sport fishing.

"These fish are a menace, and it's critical that we take quick and decisive action," Klobuchar says. "We always love in Minnesota to be known as the state of 10,000 lakes. We don't want to be known as the state of 50,000 carp."

However, the lock-closure plan has its critics. Industrial users say banning barges would mean more trucks on the road. And Greg Breining - a journalist and author of several books on nature and the environment - says drastic steps to eliminate the fish could be expensive and futile.

"I think it's worth some research and some study," Breining says. "But to declare war on invasives opens up a big money pit."

Breining says control efforts - whether installing electric barriers, introducing predators or closing rivers - could wind up doing more harm than good. And he says the war rhetoric reinforces the myth that humans can control nature.  

"It's just not very effective," he says. "It's like a war on terrorism or a war on drugs. It's just a way to spend a lot of money to no particularly beneficial end."

Biologist Mark Davis at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, agrees. He says scientists and policymakers need to be skeptical of worst-case-scenarios. Davis concedes there could be a lot at stake with Asian carp. But he says the research is far from conclusive.

"Are they really going to devastate the fisheries? Are they really going to drive some of these species to extinction or near-extinction? In most cases, the new species come in and actually add to biodiversity, because they usually do not drive the native species to extinction," Davis says.

In the Illinois River, another place where silver carp are jumping into boats, native fish appear to be surviving. However, a local biologist says the natives are smaller than they used to be, indicating they are competing less successfully for food. But so far, Asian carp have not killed them off.

In Chicago, electric barriers are in place to keep the fish out of Lake Michigan. And officials are also trying something more low-tech: letting commercial fishermen haul off boatloads of them for sale in Asia. It's a thriving business.

When Asian carp were first imported decades ago, few foresaw their environmental impact. Today, critics say those hoping to eradicate Asian carp could learn from that experience, and consider the costs and unintended consequences of their campaign.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: boss from: the hills
May 28, 2012 12:01 AM
an easy way to take care of them would be to put netting on the boats and just keep driving up and down the creek. those dumb fish will jump into the nets and have a fish fry.


by: Fisherman from: Ohio
May 26, 2012 9:51 PM
Yea there is some money to be made here I think. Also would make good fertilizer for farming...

I would simply think of it as a free resource for whatever the heck you want.

Take advantage of these offerings and they will thin out in these waters I would think.


by: Mark Mayfield from: Nashville, TN USA
May 25, 2012 9:22 PM
Allow mass unlimited fishing of the Asian carp both privately and commercially.

Within a couple years, it would eradicated from our waters.


by: CptNerd from: Alexandria VA
May 25, 2012 5:19 PM
Two words: Eat them! Or, barring that, fivewords: catch them and export them! These fish are highly sought after, especially in China where they are having a hard time raising them due to pollution in their rivers. One high-ranking person in China said it's a shame that we have so many of these and their so large, and they can't even raise them in China like this anymore.

There's money to be made here!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid