Great Lakes states fight to ban Asian
Lawmakers fear imported fish may destroy ecosystems
By Frederic J. Frommer
Posted on ESPN on October 4, 2005
WASHINGTON — A North-South fish fight is erupting in Congress
over legislation to ban imports of Asian carp, a critter
that southern fish farmers depend on to control parasites,
but which Great Lakes officials fear will wreak havoc
on the lakes' ecosystems.
Fish farmers in states like Arkansas and Mississippi
imported the voracious Asian carp fish from China to help
them control parasites by eating snails.
Some carp have escaped the farms and made their way north
along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and could
soon be knocking on the Great Lakes' doors. An electric
barrier south of Chicago, which gives the fish a nonlethal
jolt, is designed to prevent them from entering Lake Michigan.
Asian carp, which often leap out of the water, can grow
to more than 100 pounds.
Three years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed
banning the importation of black carp, a species of Asian
carp that southern fish farmers use, but the agency has
not yet acted on its proposal.
"The time for talking and reviewing and studying
is over," said U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Hobart, who
sponsored legislation to ban importation and interstate
transfer of Asian carp. "I don't want us to wait
until it's too late."
Shawn Finely, a Fish and Wildlife legislative specialist,
said the agency has to take into account the aquaculture
industry in finalizing the rule.
"We are taking our time," she said. "We
feel we need to look at the environmental and economic
Hugh Warren, executive director of the Catfish Farmers
of America, said there is no other way to control the
parasite problems than using black carp.
"We've investigated other kinds of fish, but we
haven't found a successful substitute," said Warren,
a catfish farmer from Greenwood, Miss. "If there
were, we would use it."
Jay Rendall, invasive species program coordinator at
the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said that
the Asian carp species are voracious eaters of mollusks,
plankton and vegetation.
"If you put them altogether, they're consuming most
of the food chain," he said. "If we get them
in large numbers, they would reduce the plankton that
other fish need."
The Great Lakes region is already battling other exotic
species, such as zebra mussels.
In August, the Fish and Wildlife Service asked for comments
on an alternative rule that would ban only fertile black
carp, which would allow fish farmers to import and transport
Mike Freeze, a fish farmer in Keo, Ark., said the industry
is adamant that any ban be limited to fertile carp.
"Until we can find a native species to replace it,
or until we can get a chemical approved by the federal
government, we're reluctant to give up the only way we
have to control these parasites," Freeze said.
Green said he was skeptical of such a modified ban.
"There are real issues of enforceability,"
he said. "How does one check? How do you enforce
Green added that the track record on precautions against
containing the fish has not been good.
"I just don't think that buying time to construct
bioengineered alternatives is the right answer,"
Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., who opposes Green's bill,
said the issue is best left to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
"I just don't think it should be the business of
the U.S. Congress to micromanage issues like this,"