Time magazine is calling it the “Carp-Pocalypse,” and for good reason. A lot of people in the Midwest–politicians, wildlife officials, environmental activists, and fishermen–are freaking about the discovery of a 19.6 pound, 34.6-inch male Asian bighead carp entangled in a fishing net in waterway on the south side of Chicago, just six miles from Lake Michigan. Here’s a press release from the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, a governmental group.
Hypophthalmichthys nobilis, a species native to China, is one of two species of Asian carp–the silver carp, or Hypophthalmichthys molitrix, is the other– that Arkansas fish farmers made the grievous mistake of introducing to this continent in the 1970s. According to this U.S. Environmental Protection Agency primer on the carp problem, the foreign fish were supposed to eat algae and detritus from the bottoms of aquaculture ponds and keep them clean. But when flooding caused the ponds to overflow in the 1990s, carp escaped into waterways in the Mississippi basin. Since then, the escapees’ prolific progeny been steadily making their way northward. Asian carp grow to a hefty size–up to 100 pounds and four feet in length–and are gluttonous eaters, consuming up to 20 percent of their weight in plankton each day, so that they threaten to devastate the food supply for native fish species. U.S. Wildlife officials have built elaborate defenses, including electrified barriers along Chicago-area waterways, in a desperate effort to keep the critters out of the Great Lakes. Nevertheless, the barbarian fish have reached the gates.
Though just one bighead carp was caught in the waterway, fish experts doubt that he was traveling alone. “Asian carp are like cockroaches,” Natural Resources Defense Council official Henry Henderson told the New York Times. “When you see one, there are many more that you don’t see.
The Times reports that scientists are expected to test the invader’s scales and otolith, a structure in the inner ear, in an effort to determine it age and how long it had lived in the waters leading to Lake Michigan.
The Great Lakes commercial and sport fishing industries are valued at over $7 billion annually, so a devastating carp invasion would put a major dent in the regional economy. The Chicago Tribune reports that officials in Michigan, one of six states that unsuccessfully sued Illinois last year in an attempt to force the closing of shipping locks into the Great Lakes, are threatening more legal action to stave off what they fear will be an environmental catastrophe. And a Michigan member of Congress, Republican Rep. Dave Camp, is pushing for passage of H.R. 4472, the CARP ACT, which would mandate the closing. (Incidentally, the bill’s name, which stands for “Close All Routes and Prevent Asian Carp Today,” strikes us as one of the most impressive specimens of Acronymis governmentalis that we’ve ever seen.) Illinois so far has resisted the pressure, arguing that such a closure would be devasting to the state’s commerce.
The discovery of the asian carp by a local fisherman was particularly disheartening because federal wildlife officials had just conducted a survey of fish populations in the area, and had not found any carp.