|Asian Carp leaping from the River|
Friday, April 1, 2011
Invasive Asian Carp Reach Upper Mississippi via Canada and the Red River
"The unthinkable has happened," sighed Peter Findlay, long time resident of Saint Paul, Minnesota as he watched hundreds of Asian Carp leaping from the waters of the Mississippi River on this early spring day, "the darned Asian Carp have gotten here." Why they are so "darned" and how they got to the Mississippi River upstream of an extensive Army Corps of Engineers lock and dam network is a migratory story that rivals Homer's Odyssey.
Asian carp originally were imported into the United States from Asia in the 1960s and 1970s, where they were raised in Arkansas to clean fish farm ponds and sewage lagoons and later used as a food fish. There are four species of Asian carp: grass, black, silver and bighead. Asian Carp are large, extremely prolific, and consume vast amounts of food. They can weigh up to 100 pounds, and can grow to a length of more than four feet. Where they have "invaded" in the past, Asian carp have disrupted the food chain that supports native fish.
Since their introduction, all four species have gotten loose in the wild and made their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, but were largely blocked from making it into the Upper Mississippi River system by the Upper River's dams. Until this spring.
"We thought we had em!" said Dr. Fred Pepper of the Canadian Fish and Wildlife Service. Three times in recent months Canadian officials had caught truck drivers with thousands of pounds of live bighead carp being smuggled from Southern fish farms bound for food markets in the Lake Ontario city of Toronto. "Canada banned the bighead carp in 2005, and we've caught a bunch of em comin up nord from the states on many occasions. But some slipped through," said Dr. Pepper.
The "some" that slipped though, however, were not destined for Toronto fish markets, but for Lake Winnipeg, a large lake 34 miles north of the city of Winnipeg in the province of Manitoba, Canada. Dr. Pepper explained how they made the long journey to Manitoba. "Oh, they came across into Toronto okay. But they didn't stay there. We've been able to trace their path from Toronto to Lake Winnipeg, eh, and it seems as if the folks at CAFLAC (the Canadian Association for the Liberation of Asian Carp) took the carp in coolers on ice by bicycle out along the Trans Canadian Highway to a remote place where they intended to release the carp into freedom. And that's what they did by gosh."
Lake Winnipeg isn't isolated, though. It is fed by many rivers, including the Red River (sometimes called the Red River of the North), flowing out of the US and forming the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. "Seems like the fish swam upstream into the Red River all the way up to Fargo, where they waited for their chance to make a dash for the Upper Mississippi," Pepper speculated. "And wid the spring floods, they musta just flipped and flopped their way across the Minnesotan's farm fields right into the headwaters of the Mississippi."
A spokesperson for CAFLAC, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the goal of CAFLAC all along was to get the invasive carp into the Upper Mississippi. "They deserved to be free and to go wherever they want to go, eh, and the dams on the Upper Mississippi were just unfair and biased against the poor fish." CAFLAC literature says that the group, which actually has a secret US office in Minneapolis, Minnesota (located at 201 South Washington Street, Suite 905), opposes anti-species discriminatory barriers of all kinds, including dams.
Now that the fish are in the Upper Mississippi River system, the residents of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois have been seen flocking to the shores of the River in numbers never seen before to view the mighty beasts. "This sure beats rooting for the Packers or Twins. Look at those beauties leap!" shouted little six-year old Melissa McDonald, who was there with her parents to feed bread to the fish as they (the fish, not the McDonalds) jumped for joy at having finally breached the human barriers that had kept them in check for so long.