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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes states fight to ban Asian carp
Lawmakers fear imported fish may destroy ecosystems
By Frederic J. Frommer
Associated Press
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 impacts."

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 sterile versions.

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 that?"

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," he said.

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," he said.

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