It's not a pretty story when we try to "manage" nature, but it's an interesting one. I’m reading the article “Deep Trouble: A High-Tech Hunt for Asian Carp” by Dan Egan. It was published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last August, but came to my attention this week when the winners of the Pulitzer Prize — journalism’s top honor — were announced.
Egan’s piece was a finalist in the explanatory journalism category. He tells how bighead and silver carp were first brought here in 1963 and up through efforts to stop their entry into the Great Lakes today.
I want to share it because I think it’s an outstanding example of the kind of reporting and writing it requires to understand our nation’s fisheries, and our complicated history with them. I think you'll enjoy it too.
At first, these fish were going to be used as cleaners, eating up waste and weeds in fish farms in Arkansas — a “natural” alternative to chemicals. The second plan was to use them as a self-sustaining sewage treatment. Towns could feed them sewage and then fund their costs by selling the fish as food. Thankfully, the FDA stepped in before they made it to the market.
That’s how they got here, and this is how they got around: As Egan writes, it was the “tinkering with the hydrology of a continent” — the building of canals — that has given invasive species with any kind of foothold free access to the rest of the country.
The efforts to contain them are fascinating too. The electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that is hoped will keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes was originally designed to keep other invasive species in the Great Lakes (there are currently 186). By the time the barrier was built, those species had already made their way out of the lakes and into the Mississippi River basin.
There’s more, including the mystery of how close these invaders are to the lakes. DNA showed them to be in the Chicago canal, but they didn’t turn up in the body count after a 2009 poisoning of the waters that was designed to stop them in their tracks (yes, ironically, we're using chemicals to stop them). Click here to read the whole story.
Photo of bighead carp credit: Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee