Asian Flying Carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix)

Source: The Weeders Digest at 877-224-4899

Asian Flying Carp is a species of the freshwater fish and some of its varieties are the silver carp, the bighead carp, the grass carp and the black carp. Asian Carp is native to north and northeast parts of Asia. In addition to that, it is one of the most produced varieties of fish in aquaculture around the world. They are also cultivated mostly in China. They are usually found along with other major Asian carps in poly-culture. Lately, it has been spreading around the world and has reached to around 88 countries. The mode of travel is considered to the connected waterways. The most common reason for their importation is their use in aquaculture along with enhancing of the fisheries in the wild.

One of the qualities of the silver carp is that it is a filter feeder and can filter small particles. In the 1970s, due to their filtration ability, these fish were introduced into North America in order to check the growth of algae growth in various water treatment facilities and aquaculture. But soon after their importation, the flying Asian carp escaped from their captivity due to the flooding of the facilities and spread to other waters of America such as Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri rivers and their tributaries. The Asian Carp is also posing a serious threat to the Great Lakes because of various reasons such as size, large appetite and fecundity. The Asian variety of the Carp can grow up to four feet and can weigh up to hundred pounds. The cold weather of the Great Lakes also suites them as it is similar to their native habitat if the Eastern Hemisphere. They are having negative impact on the natural eco-system of the rivers as they have the ability to wipeout the native species by consuming the food in large quantity and thus, leaving no food for the native species. They act as bullies, pushing away the weaker native species along with being ravenous eaters. The population of the Asian carp grows exponentially as they can quickly multiply and result into huge number of off springs. Another disadvantage is that there has not been any predator reported that can feed on such a big fish as the Asian carp in the waters of the affected rivers and lakes.

The Asian Carp has made way up the Mississippi river in the Midwest region and has also spread to its tributaries. Now the flying carps are on the verge of entering the Great Lakes through the Chicago Canal System. Their abundance in the rivers is posing serious threat to the ecology and natural food web. States such as Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan are currently in line for what appears to be a direct hit. More information can be found at

They have become the most abundant species in these areas and are causing various hardships to the local fisherman. Another problem is the ability of the fish to jump high out of the water. This has also been causing some problems to the fishermen as these fish can hit a fisherman and stories have been heard when people have been hit by these fish on their head or knocked out on the boats. Some of the biologists have reported cases where they have been hit by these big carps. Some of the recreational fishing facilities are also being disturbed by the wild jumping of these fish as they can cause serious injuries to the humans. The Asian carp has a tendency to jump high when there are boats around.

In order to control the spreads of the Asian carp in the great lakes, some researchers have come up with the method of ecological separation which means that there is no transfer or movement of organisms between two different basins. In the case of the Asian carp, the two basins of Mississippi and Great Lakes’ are connected by man made lakes and efforts are being made to stop the transfer of the organisms between these two basins by any means. It will require investment in the infrastructure and good biological planning. It can also involve a creation of a barrier to stop the flow of the fish in the Great Lakes. Another method that is being taken into consideration is the setup of an electric barrier which can be effectively stop the transfer of the carp into the Great Lakes area. But the setting up of the electric barrier does not assure absence of all faults and does not ensure that there will be a total prevention of the fish in the Great Lakes. The electric barrier consists of setting up an electric field through water by passing current between the electrodes. This field is stronger at the center like a bell. The electric barrier is supposed to work by making the fish that enter the field uncomfortable to the point that they swim back. Public laws such as those prohibiting the transfer of Asian carp from one region to another. The Asian carp should also not be used as bait in other regions. Another way is to increase the market for the consumption of the Asian carp which can result in considerable decrease in its population. Therefore, other than the purpose they were introduced in the U.S. , there is no positive impact on the ecological systems of the rivers.

For more information about this invasion of these Flying Asian Carp, just visit The Weeders Digest at 877-224-4899 or contact the United States Department of Agriculture at

Coon Rapids Dam part of fight against ‘silent plague’

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton March 16 and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials presented a proposal to better protect state waters against a “silent plague,” but the Coon Rapids Dam was very much on their minds.

The plague DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr and the governor warned against are invasive aquatic speciesAsian carp, zebra mussels, watermilfoil — that have made watery inroads into state rivers and lakes.

Already Eurasian watermilfoil infests some 240 lakes with the small, sharp-edged zebra mussels infesting 19 lakes and four major rivers.

Although Dayton mistook at a distance a mounted bighead Asian carp for a muskie — he spoke fondly of not being able to take his eyes off the fish that he dreamed of catching all his life — he quickly rebounded from the identification error.

“That’s why we need to be as alarmed as we are,” Dayton said.

“That’s an enormous fish. I don’t want to see that.”

DNR invasive species expert Luke Skinner said there is no known population of breeding Asian carp in Minnesota waters — the last Asian carp caught in state waters was back in 2009.

But the carp, bighead and the bounding silver, continue to move north up the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

The administration’s proposal, which was honed by stakeholders, would increase invasive species boat inspections by the equivalent of six inspectors, increase penalties for violators, require training and permitting for lake service providers.

The governor is proposing a $5 surcharge increase on a canoe license, a $10 surcharge increase on the license for boats under 16 feet and a $15 surcharge increase on a license for boats over 16 feet. A boat license is good for three years.

Although indicating he understood the increases reached into the public’s pocket, Dayton said a canoeist shouldn’t object too strongly to paying an additional $1.67 a year to combat invasive species.

The problems presented by invasive species crossed political party lines, he said.

In addition, Dayton considers upgrading the Coon Rapids Dam — he slates $16 million in his bonding proposal for the century-old structure on the Mississippi — a “critical part of the prevention effort.”

DNR officials view the dam as the last line of defense against Asian carp moving up the Mississippi before penetrating waters to the north, such as prized Lake Mille Lacs.

“The Coon Rapids Dam right now is the most probable spot we can stop them,” said Skinner.

With the bonding money the dam can be upgraded to be 99.9 percent effective as a carp barrier, he said.

Last week, legislation carried in the Senate by Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park/Coon Rapids, creating a Coon Rapids Dam Commission of 15 voting members and slating some $440,000 to the Three Rivers Park District to cover design costs for making the dam a sounder carp barrier, passed a Senate committee.

But not all upstream lawmakers are content.

“Those of us upstream don’t want this under the Coon Rapids Dam Commission,” said Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids.

The stakes are high, according to Saxhaug.

Saxhaug wants a stronger hand at the controls.

Kruse shares Saxhaug’s concerns about invading Asian carp.

Indeed, he believes within two to five years the carp will be approaching the dam. He styled them as “100-pound flying fish that eat everything on sight.”

Kruse has also proposed $16 million in bonding for the dam, explaining he considers the funding critical.

“For me it’s an emergency item,” he said.

Kruse stressed the need for speedy progress on the dam, suggesting the more government that’s pulled into the initiative, such as the federal government, the slower progress will be.

“We want to make sure we get it built in time to contain the carp,” he said.

Kruse expressed “concern” over the Dayton Administration’s proposal to increase the boat license surcharge fee, saying dollars are tight for families. He argued outdoor legacy dollars are a better source of funding.

Dayton said his administration would do what it could to combat invasive species.

“We also need to enlist every citizen in Minnesota, every angler in Minnesota, every boat owner in Minnesota, to do their part,” he said.

Kruse’s bill has bipartisan support in the Senate with Republicans Mike Jungbauer and Pam Wolf along with DFLer Barb Goodwin, all Anoka County legislators, as co-sponsors.

A companion bill has been introduced by Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park/Coon Rapids in the Minnesota House and is awaiting action in the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy Committee.

That bill, too, has bipartisan support with Reps. Denise Dittrich, DFL-Champlin/Coon Rapids, Jim Abeler, R-Anoka/Ramsey, and Branden Petersen, R-Andover/Coon Rapids, as co-sponsors.

Asian carp, the new bullies of America’s inland waters, are crazy, high-flying fish

LEE HILL KAVANAUGH, McClatchy Newspapers

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Cold-blooded. Spawning faster than rabbits. Leaping boats in a single swish.
Leaving in their wake, dozens of slack-jawed (and several cases of tooth-loosened) fishermen, kayakers, water skiers and anyone else who dares to trespass through their watery world.

Asian silver carp are becoming the new bullies in America’s waterways, said a Missouri fish biologist.

“They’re here, they’re a problem, they’re not going away soon. And they could potentially be life-threatening,” said Duane Chapman, a research fish biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey and national expert on invasive carp species.

Last week, a Texas kayaker racing on the Missouri River had a sudden encounter of the slimy, slapping kind in the MR340 kayak race. Although he was OK, he chose to leave the race because of them.

The only warning anyone on the water has that these fish are about to propel themselves in panic is (with apologies to Ross Perot) they emit a sucking sound.

“You hear that … sound … and everybody ducks their heads between their legs waiting for the splash,” Chapman said.

Watch out especially along wing dikes where the waters are calm. Take care at night, when they can’t be seen flying at you. From rivers in South Dakota to the shores of Ohio, they fly out like popping corn without a lid.

That’s the image the non-fishing public has of these crazy fish. But anyone who has ever been hit knows there’s nothing funny about them.

“These fish can grow into 70 or 80 pounds,” warned scientist Tracey Hill at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. So far, the silver carp in Missouri’s rivers average around 15 to 20 pounds. Eating 5 to 20 percent of their weight daily, they grow fast.

Hill recently returned to his Columbia office after studying the density of silver carp populations in the waterways near Chicago. Although few were found there, he knows how bad it can get. In a Missouri River tributary near Columbia, “more were in the air than in the water,” he said. He and his crew wore hockey helmets to protect themselves.

Even with the precautions, Hill still took a couple of fish hits in the chest and batted a few from his face. One managed to hammer him right in the kneecap.

“That hurt,” Hill said.

Asian carp are such a nuisance on the Missouri River that fishermen and other boaters protect themselves with barrier nets, not only to shield the passengers, but also to protect the boat motor’s throttle mechanism from damage.

“If they hit the throttle front or back, it’ll floor the engine in reverse or forward, and that’s dangerous,” Chapman said. “Someone could fall out and even be run over by his own boat. There are times when a fisherman doesn’t come home, and who knows what happened to him out there on the river?”
But the nets don’t eliminate all the hazards.

“They still didn’t stop the slime, the scales and the fish poop from spraying everywhere when the fish hit,” he said.

So Chapman had a welder install a Plexiglas fish shield fore and aft of the area where the boat driver handles the outboard motor. That works, he said, although it’s harder to communicate with others in the boat. He’s seen other inventive ideas on the river. One boater had some 2-by-6s protecting a throttle. Another had rigged up empty milk cartons as protection to the mechanism.

Fish biologists are studying whether the silver carp, which were introduced in the 1970s to Arkansas lakes to forage on troublesome algae, might also be sucking in the tiny young of Missouri’s native fish species. Other algae feeders clearly are losing the competition for the food, which means less for game fish to eat.

Besides the silver, other Asian species, the black, the grass — which can jump, too, although not as much — and the bighead — which reach 100 pounds — are taking over U.S. waterways, just as they have done the European rivers. When a large section of the Danube River was poisoned by an accidental cyanide spill, 90 percent of the belly-up fish were Asian carp.

Asian carp are causing a big controversy in the Great Lakes region, where five states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and Pennsylvania — are asking a federal judge in Chicago to close two shipping locks and install additional barriers to prevent Asian carp from using the canals to reach the Great Lakes. One assistant attorney general dubbed the area “the carp highway.”

But that plan has met strong legal resistance from barge and tour boat operators who use the canals.
Fish biologists spotted a bighead carp six miles from the lake, well past the electronic barriers that officials placed to prevent the species from invading.

Catching the silver carp — which like all carp do not take a hook — is like herding cats, Chapman said. Although they leap across boats, they seem to avoid nets. So scientists have gone to Innovative Net Systems in Milton, La.

Greg Faulkner, co-owner of the net company, said he wants to catch these elusive fliers, too, hoping to grab a new growing niche market. But his company’s first attempt to corral them failed.

“In 15 minutes we knew we’d brought a knife to a gunfight,” he said with a chuckle. “These fish aren’t whale smart, but they have a strong natural instinct. They swim into the net, then swim out just as fast. They can haul ass, like fish on steroids.”

The company is finding some success with a modified purse net with a wide-enough mesh to allow native species to escape.

Although fish biologists see the invasive carp as a nuisance, Chapman, who is the world’s leading authority on them, admitted to having a love-hate relationship, especially after cooking one.

“They taste good!” he said. “They have a lot of bones, but their meat resembles a cod taste. They’re low in contaminants, low in fat, high in omegas.”

To show others how to fillet, cook and share a few recipes, Chapman teamed up with some Louisiana State University students to make three You-Tube videos titled “Flying Fish, Great Dish.”

Faulkner likes eating the carp, too. He sees the species as a potential new fish star in the gourmet world — if people can get over what they look like, he added.

“There’s more to these fish than just looking ugly. The yuppie fish of the year was the orange roughy, and if you ever saw it come out of the water, it would scare the hell out of you. Hell, the monkfish is the ugliest fish on the planet. … Americans say these carp taste bad, but in China, people there have just about cleaned them out, so many eat them.

” … We have the potential for making a cheap, good-tasting protein meal, especially for people who can’t afford salmon. I say, get the bones out and bring on those recipes.”

Or as Quintus Horatius Flaccus, otherwise known as Horace, might say: Carpe carp.

Seize the carp.

(c) 2010, The Kansas City Star.
Visit The Star Web edition on the World Wide Web at
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Asian Carp: can we beat ’em by eating ’em?

Mukwonago, WI (AP) – Chef Jimmy Wade isn’t transforming his Heaven City Restaurant near Mukwonago into a house of flying carp just yet.

But the adventurous chef, who hosts twice-a-year wild game dinners, is planning an “invasivore” dinner menu in February as part of his Tapas Tuesday series.

On the menu: Carp Cakes, Smoked Carp Steak and Carp Napoleon, featuring a few invasive Asian carp species from the Illinois River that threaten to breach the Great Lakes.

“If you can’t beat `em, eat `em.” That’s the mantra of an emerging group of environmentally conscious foodies dubbed “invasivores” in a recent New York Times story. Wade hopes to entice them to his restaurant with surprisingly tasty invasive species entrées. He’d also be happy just to attract a crowd of adventurous diners.

“Lots of people will try anything once,” said Wade, whose enthusiasm is fed by childhood memories of gigging pesky cownose rays with a pitchfork in the shallows of Chesapeake Bay. The rays with 3-foot wingspans are native to the bay, but wreak havoc by destroying underwater grass beds and devouring valuable oysters and clams.

Fish biologists and environmental groups warn that trying to get rid of an invasive species by eating it isn’t the best way to beat it.

Human predators could help slow the Asian carp’s rapid march toward the Great Lakes, they say. That could buy valuable time for a permanent solution to eradicate the voracious carp, which destroys the ecosystem and is known for its ability to leap out of water like a flying torpedo.

It also could be dangerous to create a taste for Asian carp in the U.S., critics say. If market demand forced biologists to manage a sustainable Asian carp fishery, instead of eliminating the fish, it could threaten waters beyond the Great Lakes, said Duane Chapman, a fish biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and one of the nation’s top Asian carp experts.

“It doesn’t matter if 97 percent of the population hates it,” Chapman said. “It only takes one guy to move the fish to a new place because he likes it . A fisherman with a bait bucket intentionally stocking them in a reservoir would be a very bad thing.”

“Eating them is not going to have a substantial impact on the population,” Chapman said. “We’re not going to see eradication by fishing them down like passenger pigeons,” which were wiped out after humans developed a taste for them. “It only takes one mating pair (of Asian carp) to breach the Great Lakes.”
Josh Mogerman, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, agrees.

`Just eat them all’ is pithy and easy, and it makes everyone feel good, but it doesn’t solve the problem,” he said. “

“It isn’t an `out’ for people who don’t want to take important, big actions.” Mogerman said. “It’s one tactic in the fight _ one tool in the tool chest. Slowing down the advance is important, but it’s not the solution.”

Expanding the commercial Asian carp export market to China is among several measures outlined in the Obama administration’s “2011 Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework,” a $47 million plan to prevent the jumbo carp from infesting the Great Lakes. China already has a taste and demand for the mild, flaky, white fish, which is considered a delicacy.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced a $2 million program last July to boost commercial fishing for Asian carp on stretches of the Illinois River and sell them in China. The state contracted with a Chinese meat processing company and an Illinois commercial fishing company to harvest 30 million pounds from Illinois rivers.

Asian carp can jump across the length of a boat. Fishermen literally herd them into nets or shock them out of the water. The fish don’t take bait off hooks. They eat plankton, not other fish.

The Asian grass carp was introduced deliberately into the U.S. in 1963 for aquatic weed control. Another species, silver carp, was imported from Asia in the 1970s to control algae growth in aquaculture and municipal wastewater treatment facilities, but it quickly escaped captivity.

Chapman acknowledges they can be delicious. He has a three-part video series on YouTube that takes viewers from a boat, with Asian carp leaping all around, to the kitchen, where he explains how to debone and cook the fish.

The major downsides of cooking Asian carp are their low meat yield _ 20 percent to 25 percent _ and their heavy bone structure, he says.

They’re filter feeders, and don’t look or taste like common carp, which are bottom feeders.

Asian carp feed extremely low on the food chain, where contaminants aren’t much of an issue, Chapman says. That makes them better eating fish _ low in contaminants and fat, with mild meat that tastes like cod, he says.

Making Asian carp menu-worthy in the U.S. probably would require changing its name, as “carp” is considered an unappetizing four-letter word. Some have suggested calling it Kentucky carp or silverfin.
Wade isn’t planning to change the name on his invasivore menu. But he will offer plenty of other tapas options for those not interested in Asian carp, which will be priced in the $8 to $12 range for the Feb. 1 reservations-only dinner.

Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, is all for the entrepreneurial spirit.
“One of the great things about North Americans is when they’re dealt lemons, they make lemonade,” Gaden said. “But very often, they forget that they weren’t drinking lemonade in the first place, and don’t even like it.”

If policy makers “don’t focus on prevention like a laser beam, then you have to learn to live with what comes into the Great Lakes, and ultimately you will disrupt what you enjoy,” Gaden said. “It never will be as good as what Mother Nature gave you, which is suited to the environment you have.”

Creating a market here for Asian carp would be “surrendering and making do with what you’ve been dealt _ not what Mother Nature intended,” said Gaden.

It makes sense to create a market for an already established invasive species, such as nutria, “because they’re already everywhere they’re going to go,” said Chapman.

Nutria is a large South American rodent resembling a beaver. It was brought to the U.S. to establish a fur farm industry, and by 1962, replaced the native muskrat as the leading fur-bearer in Louisiana. When it escaped from captivity, it caused widespread destruction in the Louisiana wetlands, the East Coast and Pacific Northwest, feeding on vegetation and leaving marshes pitted with holes and deep swim canals.

Unfortunately, “nutria tastes awful,” said Milwaukee chef David Swanson, who makes a living by sourcing local foods from farms for area restaurants through Braise on the Go.

Swanson experimented with nutria while working at a New Orleans restaurant in the early 1990s. “It’s like leather cowhide,” he recalled. “We tried to braise it, but it still tasted like gamy squirrel.”

The nonprofit international organization Slow Food works to create a demand for endangered foods to prevent their extinction.

Creating demand for Asian carp goes against the goal of eradicating a species, said Swanson, a local Slow Food leader.

“I think you’re much better off trying to eradicate them another way,” the chef said. “For it to catch on, it has to be rooted in something more than a feel-good movement to help out the environment.”

Matthew Smith, land manager at the Schlitz Audubon Center in Bayside, agrees there are limits to what can be accomplished by eating invasive species.

He cited garlic mustard, introduced in the U.S. as a culinary herb.

“It took a while for garlic mustard to escalate to where it is today _ a horrible invasive pest to our woodlands,” Smith said.

Some people like to eat it in pesto. “But you don’t want people to keep patches of garlic mustard because they like it in pesto,” he said.

In general, Smith said, “It’s a bleak future with more and more invasive plants and areas that are lost causes.

“But we can’t really eat our woods clean.”

Associated Press

Coming to a river near you: flying carp

by Rob Schmitz, Minnesota Public Radio

A Minnesota DNR employee sets a 300-foot net near Hastings. The DNR is targeting Asian carp now that one has been discovered in Lake Pepin. (MPR Photo/Rob Schmitz)

Tales of flying carp have been popular in recent months in baitshops, coffee houses and around the water coolers in Minnesota. But the discovery last month of an Asian carp in Lake Pepin has put a very real edge on the stories. State and federal agencies are stepping up efforts to try and repel the invasive species.

Hastings, Minn. — As a DNR fisheries specialist, Kevin Stoffer has done his fair share of work trying to educate the public about exotic species and the threats they pose to the state’s ecosystems. All too often, he says, the information is met with blank stares. That’s changed now.

“We’ve dealt with a lot of exotics, whether its zebra mussels, eurasian milfoil, purple loose strife, round gobis,” says Stoffer. “I don’t think anything has grabbed the public’s attention quite like the Asian carp have, and I gotta think that’s because they come flying out of the water and hit people.”

The DNR is worried about how the Asian carp’s voracious appetite will affect native species. However, the television images from Missouri and Illinois of the fish jumping more than 10 feet out of the water have earned the three species of Asian carp near-celebrity status.

Stories of boaters who have been injured by the flying fish have added a touch of notoriety.

Up until a few weeks ago, Stoffer and his colleagues were setting nets on the Mississippi near the Iowa border to look for the fish. But that was before one was discovered on Lake Pepin, almost 100 miles upstream. Today, Stoffer is driving north along Highway 61 to set nets near Hastings, almost 70 miles further upstream.

He arrives at the boat launch where two colleagues are waiting for him in their boat. He jumps in and they set off towards their nets.

Just below Lock and Dam Number Two, they stop the boats and start pulling up a 300-foot mesh net. The day’s catch is three common carp, and no sign of any Asian carp. Stoffer says looking for the fish at such an early stage is like finding a needle in a haystack.

“They’re very good at avoiding nets. They have good eyesight and strong avoidance reactions. If one fish is in the net, they tend to sense that,” says Stoffer.

Downstream in Illinois, this isn’t the case. According to the Illinois Natural History Survey, since 1994, commercial fishermen have caught more than 55 tons of Asian carp per year. Scientists estimate the fish are swimming upstream an average of 50 miles a year, and will soon become more abundant in Minnesota waters.

The carp devour plankton at the base of the food chain. Scientists on the Illinois River say they’re already seeing reductions in native species. Some fear the fish will eventually take over the entire upper Mississippi ecosystem.

In response to the threat, the DNR is working with other states and federal agencies to examine ways of either preventing the fish from swimming further upstream or eliminating the species altogether.

Jay Rendall, the exotic species coordinator for the Minnesota DNR, says a proposal to build an underwater electric fence is popular. One has already been proposed along a wide stretch of the river near the Iowa border.

“We’re looking at not just one place but several places, and perhaps it needs to be used in combination with other technologies,” says Rendall.

Other technologies include an underwater acoustic barrier that would emit bubbles that carry high-frequency sound waves, which have been shown to drive off the Asian carp. Phil Moy is a Wisconsin-based environmental consultant. He worked for eight years on an electric barrier at the mouth of the Illinois River. He’s skeptical whether it would work on the much larger Mississippi River.

“What we don’t know about that location, or other locations, are these less tangible effects or less controlled effects like the flood situations, the sediment situations, the debris. There might potentially be a problem with barges or navigation,” says Moy.

Moy worries the Mississippi’s infamous mud will swallow electrodes, rendering the barrier useless. He adds that the huge barges on the river might also disrupt the electrical field. Another concern is what the barrier would do to native species on the river.

As state and federal agencies scramble to find a way to eliminate the Asian carp, Moy poses a much simpler strategy: If you can’t beat ’em, well, eat ’em.

“These are not bottom feeders, they are feeding up in the water column. They’re eating plant plankton and animal plankton, so they’re not going to be picking up that muddy flavor people tend to connotate with the common carp,” says Moy.

Moy says an Illinois food processing company recently signed a contract to purchase two million pounds of Asian carp for human consumption. He says breaded Asian carp patties are delicious.

The Minnesota DNR hopes to finish a feasibility study that will address the Asian carp problem in a few months. They plan to present the study to the state Legislature next March.

The One That Got Away

They’re breaking jaws. They’re spawning lawsuits. They’re pitting states against states. Now, as Asian carp invade Minnesota, they’re even worrying the president.


Bringing the fight to unwanted fish is officially the job of the government. Invasive species take an estimated $100 billion bite out of the American economy every year, largely in crop and timber losses. So the government secures our natural borders against alien invasion, as it were, just as it patrols our national boundaries. Over the last hundred years, we’ve dumped chemicals in the water, released wasps to control beetles, released beetles to control plants, and even created sterile sea lampreys to lure virile ones to their doom—all in a delicate effort to manage nature without making it too, well, unnatural.

In Minnesota, such management is the work of the Department of Natural Resources—the DNR, which is headquartered on the east side of St. Paul in a glass-and-steel office building, nondescript except for the taxidermied deer in the entryway. In the building’s cafeteria, I meet with Jay Rendall, the state’s invasive-species prevention coordinator. He’s middle-aged, wearing a fleece vest of the sort you might bring on a hike, and has the methodical manner of one accustomed to forces beyond his control, like nature and politics.

“What’s an invasive species?” he asks rhetorically. “Anything that comes from somewhere else.” He reads from a list of Minnesota invaders: “Zebra mussels, rusty crayfish, faucet snails, spiny waterfleas, round gobies, earthworms….” It’s a long list.

Minnesota, Rendall points out, has the mixed blessing of being connected to the two biggest water systems in North America: the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, which bring ships to our shores from across the world—along with some undesirable hitchhikers. Rendall shows me a graph depicting the number of invasive species introduced into the Great Lakes in the last 150 years. There’s a huge spike after 1960 that never really goes back down: The St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959. Minnesota is also believed to harbor more boats per capita than any other state—which would be fine if people didn’t drag them from lake to lake, spreading pests and, ironically, destroying the environment they bought the boats to enjoy.

The DNR couldn’t begin to subdue every alien species, Rendall says, so it prioritizes. Some species are relatively harmless. Others have become so ubiquitous, like pigeons, that the cost of eradication would be unreasonable. Right now, Rendall says, the DNR’s public enemy No. 1 is probably the zebra mussel, a fingernail-size native of Russia that, among other iniquities, clogs boat motors and starves out competing species.

Asian carp are a ways down the list. “They’re not in Minnesota yet—officially,” Rendall says. “We’re in the prevention, not management, stage for them.” And much of the prevention effort has been thwarted by a lack of cash.

“We thought at first that we’d get a barrier erected on the Mississippi down in Iowa,” Rendall says. “When the money for that didn’t come through, we thought we’d get one on the border.” That didn’t happen either. Nor did a barrier proposed for a spot even farther upriver. A barrier wouldn’t be that expensive: $4 million—about what Matt Entenza spent of his own money running for governor last year. The problem, Rendall says, is that anything built on the Mississippi River, a federal waterway, must involve the Corps of Engineers, which necessitates federal funding. Since a fish barrier would be a localized project, that essentially means earmark funding—suddenly the scourge of Congress.

“We’ve talked to the Congressional delegation I don’t know how many times,” Rendall says with a smile of exasperation. “Is helping Minnesota a federal priority? If that’s not what politicians and society want then I don’t know what else we can do.”

The DNR’s latest thought is to retrofit the decommissioned Coon Rapids Dam, north of Minneapolis, as a fish barrier. That, I point out, would mean conceding the Mississippi to carp all the way to the Twin Cities.

“Look,” Rendall says, his equanimity beginning to waver, “I wish we could do more.” He throws up his hands. “But I’ve got 10,000 people yelling at me to do something about zebra mussels.”


In the absence of law and order, vigilantes have always risen up: Doc Holliday, Bernie Goetz, the Carpbusters. And guys like Reggie McLeod, who just wants to eat the carp. McLeod lives in Winona and is the editor and publisher of Big River magazine, which covers life along the Mississippi. He’s observed the carp invasion from the beginning, and he thinks the problem isn’t the fish—it’s us.

McLeod is tall, graying, and as laidback as the river he’s reported on for decades. And every time he eats at a restaurant, he asks for carp. He hasn’t found a restaurant yet that serves it—not even Buzzard Billy’s Flying Carp Café in La Crosse—but he asks anyway, just to make a point. “What, you took it off the menu?” he jokes. He thinks we should all be eating Asian carp, which are bony but mild-tasting, at least as good as whatever is in fish sticks. And then, because humans have a remarkable ability to eat other species to the point of extinction, problem solved.

But no one’s hungry for carp. For the past two years, Big River has sponsored a carp recipe contest, challenging restaurants to come up with dishes. No one has bit, even as the state of Illinois signed a deal last year to export nearly 30 million pounds of Asian carp to Chinese supermarkets.

“It mystifies me,” McLeod says. “Our tastes are so culturally prejudiced. Lobsters and shrimp—they’re basically bugs. Oysters are slugs with shells. Heck, the Flying Carp Café serves alligator—that’s a lizard. We eat bugs, slugs, and lizards, but not carp? I hold the chefs of the Midwest responsible for that.”

Could it really be that simple? I ask Peter Sorensen one day in his office if he thinks we can eat our way out of the carp invasion, and he says, “Of course. If we all wanted to eat carp, we wouldn’t be talking about them now.” But, he predicts, we’ll become accustomed to living with Asian carp before we ever decide to eat them, just as we’ve grown accustomed to common carp.

“Look at this,” Sorensen says and shows me a government flier sent out shortly after common carp were brought to America in the late 19th century. The government imported the carp from Europe to help immigrants feel more at home. It raised them, improbably, in the reflecting pool near the Washington Monument, then shipped them out in boxcars. In about 10 years, the immigrants wanted them gone, as the carp began to turn lakes turbid. As recently as the 1980s, the DNRs of many states spent a great deal of time netting carp. Then, with costs rising, they gave up.

The antique government flier implores citizens to round up the carp: Catch the Carp! Eat the carp! Smoke the carp!—much like anti-carp activists are pushing today. “It’s exactly the same thing—exactly!” Sorenson says. “History is repeating itself.”

But for now there’s a carp czar. And there’s $47 million in new money to wage war against the carp and labs across the country eager for the ammunition, including the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center in La Crosse. Within its bunker-like complex beside the Mississippi, dozens of scientists buzz about. In the basement are tanks where up to 15 species of fish are kept at any one time—the place can replicate any kind of water chemistry that exists in nature. One scientist is testing the DNA and RNA of Asian carp and similar rough fish, to see if poisons can be developed to specifically attack their unique physiologies. Others are studying whether chemicals used to manage fish have lingering effects on animals and people.

They are tinkering—because of a fish, but mostly because of us. Because we tinker with nature every day, managing it, fouling it, moving it around. And now we must keep tinkering, or nature—the nature we’d like to keep—will collapse. We’ve unleashed too many monsters.
“Have you heard of the snakehead?” one of the scientists asks me.

It’s a kind of fish, he says, but it looks like a python with fins. It can survive up to four days out of water. It can even portage, waddling for short distances across land. It came from China, eats anything it can wrap its teeth around, and has no known enemies in America. It’s on the East Coast now. But it’s coming.

Asian carp chief outlines federal government efforts

By Dan Egan
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

President Barack Obama’s Asian carp chief appeared in downtown Milwaukee on Tuesday to outline efforts the federal government is taking to protect the world’s largest freshwater system from one of the region’s most dreaded invasive species — the jumping, ecosystem-ravaging carp.

“We’ve all learned to live with different waves of invasions,” said John Goss of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. As Goss spoke, he stood in a downtown conference room that overlooks the blue waters of a Lake Michigan that in recent years has been rocked by such noxious invaders as sea lamprey, alewives, zebra mussels, quagga mussels, round gobies, spiny water fleas and the fish-killing viral disease known as VHS.

These unwanted organisms are a big reason the lake’s native fish species have plummeted, plankton populations are vanishing and algae outbreaks are soaring. The Great Lakes are now home to an estimated 185 non-native species, but Goss told a crowd of about 60 people during the first of twin hearings scheduled for Tuesday that the government is doing its best to stop number 186.

The hearing was part of the ongoing Army Corps of Engineers study examining what it will take to stop the flow of unwanted species between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin.

That study is expected to take years, but Goss said that doesn’t mean the federal government has halted its fight to keep Asian carp from invading Lake Michigan.

He pointed to the electric fish barrier system on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which provides an artificial link between Lake Michigan and the Asian carp-infested Mississippi River basin. He noted two fences built to keep floodwaters from washing Asian carp from infested Mississippi basin rivers into Lake Michigan, and the aggressive fish-sampling operation under way on the canal above the electric barrier.
These are all considered stopgap measures to contain the carp; conservationists believe the only long-term solution is to rebuild the natural separation between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin that the Chicago canal destroyed over 100 years ago.

The Army Corps is now studying options to “prevent or reduce the risk” of species invasions between the two basins, and that includes a hard look at what it will take to build a permanent, physical barrier. That is something opposed by Chicago-area barge operators and businesses that depend on the canal system to move cargo, as well as tour boat operators and recreational boat owners.

All of these concerns will be weighed in the ongoing study.

“This is not going to be a snap decision,” Goss said. “This is not something that can happen today. It’s going to take a process.”

The Army Corps’ study is expected to last until 2015. Upon its completion, Goss said, the Army Corps will send it on to Congress with recommendations on how to solve the problem.

Conservationists who spoke at Tuesday’s hearing said the pace just seems too slow.

“I think it’s noble that you are being very thorough. I don’t want to discredit that,” said Dianne Dagelen of the Sierra Club’s Great Waters Group.

Still, Dagelen said, “It baffles me that things are going to be taking so long.”

John Kindra, owner of an Illinois towing company that moves barges on the canal and the president of the Illinois River Carriers Association, said he wants the study done right to make sure any fix is worth the money.

If barges are restricted on the canal, the effect would go beyond Chicago business, he said, noting that some cargo shipments start as far south as Louisiana and they don’t necessarily stop in Chicago.

“Wisconsin is a beneficiary of some of this barge transportation,” he said.

Others who spoke at the hearing noted that Wisconsin is also a beneficiary of being located on the Great Lakes.

Bob Wincek spoke on behalf of the 200 members of the Milwaukee chapter of the Great Lakes Sport Fishermen.

“We buy a lot of sporting goods,” he told the Army Corps officials. “If the carp get into the lake, the salmonid fishery will be gone.”

Just precisely how Asian carp, filter feeders that make their living at the bottom of the food chain, might affect existing Great Lakes populations is unknown, but carp czar Goss said the fish have already done extensive damage to a couple of rivers in his native state of Indiana.