A New Way to Deal With Invasive Asian Carp

One country’s dilemma can be another’s delight

by Annie Shao, age 17

   Asian carp first were introduced in American 1970’s as a cleaning fish for commercial fish ponds in the South. They escaped into the Mississippi River during a flood and have since spawned rapidly and spread quickly. Since then, Asian carp have been a controversial subject in America.
   Asian carp can grow to be 100-pound, four-foot-long giants. Some ecologists believe the increase in their numbers could cause native fish to die out. These carp eat too much plankton, which feeds smaller, native species. Currently, Asian carp constitute eighty percent of the fish in parts of the Illinois River. They have also been found in Wisconsin rivers and lakes.
   Although scientific research has yet to conclusively prove that Asian carp are harmful to native species, they have been a cause of great concern within the fishing and tourist industries. They can also jump out of the water and hit boaters.
   Environmentalists and the government have made many attempts to eliminate these fish, but recently, fishing industries have been catching unwelcome Asian carp and exporting them as food to countries in Asia.
   Outside of the U.S., the demand for Asian carp is astronomical. Although most Americans may turn up their noses at Asian carp, these fish are a favorite in many other countries. It is one of the most highly-valued fish in the world, with China as its main buyer.
   In the past ten years the Asian carp harvest has increased thirty-fold. In 2010, Schafer Fisheries sold 20 million pounds of carp, compared to just two million pounds in 2006. Illinois plans to ship 50 million pounds of Asian carp a year to China, satisfying others’ appetites, while eradicating a local pest and creating more jobs in the area’s export industry, according to Kirby Marsden, former president of the Illinois Commercial Fishermen’s Association.
   Many ecologists and environmentalists agree that along with other measures, like blocking the fish with dams and raising public awareness of their invasion, selling Asian carp to the world market could effectively protect American freshwaters from being overwhelmed by these intruders.
   As Jim Garvey of the Fisheries and Illinois Aquaculture Center says “it would be silly for our country to have us spend taxpayer dollars to eradicate these things and throw them in a landfill.” Although the Asian carp industry in America will end once carp levels have gone down, it seems to many a practical way to get rid of them.

[Sources: Wisconsin State Journal; Chicago News Cooperative; The New York Times]

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