What To Do With Invasive Asian Carp: Electrocute, Poison, or Bow and Arrow?

By Sarah Zhang | February 18, 2012 9:24 am

At 50 pounds, the Asian carp can pack up a punch–especially if you get caught in a cloud of jumping fish. “The air is so thick with fish that some bash together mid-flight, showering everyone with a snot-like splatter,” writes Ben Paynter in a Bloomberg Businessweek feature on the invasive Asian carp.

Damaged boats and injured boaters—broken noses and concussions are among the alleged crimes of the Asian carp—aren’t even the biggest problems with the fish. The bottom-dwellers eat voraciously, starving the native fish and quickly outgrowing any natural predators. They’re now in 23 states, and fears are that they will soon invade the Great Lakes.

Drastic policies to protect the Great Lakes, such as completely rerouting the trade through Chicago’s waterways, have made it as far as the Supreme Court even though tracking the fish’s actual location is rather imprecise. (The Supreme Court rejected the request.) eDNA—e for “environmental”—detects the presence of DNA from Asian carp but it can’t tell the difference between 1 and 100 fish or even between a live fish or a few scales. Instead, writes Paynter, researchers have resorted to brute force methods for counting fish in a river: electrocution and poison.

[N]ear a railroad track lined with shanty houses, sit three electric barrier stations. These are like mega-electrofishing units, paralyzing fish across the width of a river. Anything shocked will simply float back downriver. The river here is also flanked by 13 miles of ultrafine chain-link fence, meant to keep fish from other rivers from dumping into the channel above the fail-safe during floods.

When a barrier was taken down for service in December 2009, state and federal officials launched Operation Silverstream, a 450-person effort to poison six miles of river with Rotenone, an industrial fish toxin. The attack used boats and pumps on the shore to inject Rotenone into the water. Its spread was tracked with a dye, and caged fish acted like underwater canaries. A neutralizer was applied downstream. The effort killed thousands of fish but found only one bighead carp near the barrier. After numerous eDNA hits around the Little Calumet River just a few miles from Lake Michigan in May of the following year, officials mounted Operation Pelican, poisoning a three-mile stretch of river, again without finding any Asian carp. When a bighead carp was netted above the quarantine zone in Lake Calumet in June 2010, officials tried a less noxious tactic. A large-scale fishing expedition lasted for days, but their nets came up empty.

Efforts to contain the Asian carp population include incentives for catching more of them. “Aerial bow fishing” and a “carp rodeo” where participants catch jumping carp with nets have killed thousands. But what do with the catch? Despite attempts to rebrand the fish for the dinner table, it hasn’t really caught on in America. Ironically, one of the biggest markets for carp may be where they originated:

In the homeland of carp, there are hardly any wild-caught specimens available; canal systems are too polluted to support the species. American processors can buy carp for 13¢ per pound on the docks and get up to 92¢ per pound from mainland importers. “In China, we tell everybody that this fish is so fresh and has so much energy that it dances on the water,” says Harano, the marketer at Big River Fish, which recently received a $2 million state grant to expand its packing plant to handle an annual 30-million-pound contract for Beijing. “We market it a lot like you might Angus beef.” Their logo is a bald eagle clutching a fish in its talons while flying over the Mississippi River.

For more delicious (or maybe not so delicious) details about our carp problem, head over to Bloomberg Businessweek.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • Ron Wagner

    Asian carp (Silver, Black, Bighead) are NOT bottom dwellers. They do not eat fish. They eat algae. They have no stomach! Common carp have been with us for a hundred years. They also came from Asia. They are endemic throughout the USA including the Great Lakes. They are bottom feeders, and cause far more damage by rooting up mud and plants like hogs. Common carp are common because people wanted to eat them and distributed them far and wide. The new carp are better to eat, so guess what? They will end up everywhere also. We can spend billions trying to stop them, but they are already in the Great Lakes, and there are plenty of people out there that will dump more. It is just a matter of time. Don’t waste money that we have to borrow from the Chinese. Sell them the carp.

  • http://NotionsCapital.com Mike Licht

    The domestic market: gefilte fish, a type of Jewish quenelle.

  • Paul

    The problem in the US is that the common carp, a bottom feeder, tastes bad, and this reputation has rubbed off on its more tasty cousins.

    I must search out some of these fish. I’m told they taste like tilapia.

  • http://georgejmyersjr.blogspot.com/ George Myers

    We should recall how this might have come to be, i.e., through the St. Lawrence Seaway constructed in the 1950s. A screening area might be good all around economics, perhaps near the Eisenhower Locks at Massena, NY. It was cooperatively built with Canada and would be beneficial to both nations and also New York State, built through it, though no port was ever provided in that state where once in Ogdensburg a number of Great Lakes ships once docked.

  • David

    Wow, I’d happily eat it, though I hear that it’s tough to filet and has all kinds of bones in seemingly random places. Who here has eaten it?

  • James Anselment

    The question should be…………… fry, bake, or boil…… once people start eating them, they would have no problem getting rid of them.

  • http://none Bill Donnell

    I have eaten American Carp and it doesn’t taste bad if one can handle all the fine hair like bones which I can’t. An old joke going around when I was a boy in Oklahoma was the best way to cook a carp. “Roast it on a pine board. Throw away the carp and eat the board.” I have been told that cooking it in a pressure cooker will soften the bones and make them edible as in canned sardines.

  • JD

    Can the meat and send to countries and anybody who needs food. (Sprinkle with a little powdered ginger because it makes a lot of the fishy flavor go away.) Create canned cat food, if cats eat it. Grind up unused stuff, dry and sell as garden fertilizer.

  • CathyB3

    What’s the problem? We can drive any species to extinction by over fishing. Eat hardy.

  • http://www.whitegroupmaths.com whitecorp

    I knew the carp was a “hyperactive” breed of fish, but wasn’t of the fact they were actually “super-hyperactive”. An evolution perhaps? Peace.

  • http://yahoo.com Vickie

    This could be the answer to food needs. I have heard of explosives being used by the military to make mass fish kills. Also a lot of people are still hungry, not only in the US, but world wide. How would it work as cattle feed?

  • Rooster

    When the fish start hopping’, just start dropping’ TNT. Grind them up, dry them out & sell the dust to farmers. What did the Indians use to fertilize their crops ? Spread it over the fields. Disk it in. Plant your seeds. No more chemicals. The Asian Carp will become extinct in the U.S. within 5 years. Problem solved.

  • adam

    @ George Myers. I wouldn’t count on NY getting anything large scale done in a reasonable time frame. Here in Buffalo, we have been waiting 15 years for the plans to be finalized for another bridge into Canada.

  • Tommy Boy

    I don’t see the problem or why everyone is in a panic. All the idle shrimp trawler boats (because shrimp are overfished) from the gulf of Mexico states could easly wipe them out in a couple of open season years. The trawlers all have sorting tables to throw back the game fish unharmed. Then feed all the carp to hogs and raise virtualy free pork.

  • http://www.biomaxtech.com Biomax Tech

    The problem why no active fishers are working hard on catching them is because demand for them is so low. No one wants to eat them, what for am I catching them?

    That is why I feel we should like free market and capitalist forces work to our advantage. Consumers either want to eat them, chefs learn how to cook them or fish farmers recognize their value as nutritious animal feed.

  • Thomas Hodson

    I have heard that there are processing plants being built along the banks of the Mississippi River. I would like to know why that commercial fisherman aren’t fishing them. Is it a lot of work? Or just dangerous? Or just not enough money in it?


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