They jump right out of the water
People are familiar with Asian carp because they leap spectacularly out of the water, sometimes causing injury to boaters and water skiers. Absent that, most people are unaware of the big changes in lakes and rivers. What you don’t see, you don’t notice.
This book is good on the history of Asian carp. They were introduced often deliberately, often with government support and usually with good motives.
Grass carp providing ecological service
Species like grass carp were introduced to ponds and irrigation ditches to replace damaging herbicides. The carp do an excellent job of cleaning up ponds and ditches and would be ecologically beneficial but for their proclivity to breed and out-compete native species. They have become invasive.
What is invasive?
The author discusses the term “invasive” and why that term is imprecise and misused, but there is not currently a better term for newly introduced species that rapidly change and dominate ecosystems. This brief and tangential discussion is one of the better parts of this book.
He talks a lot about how we might stop the spread of the carp and even if we should always fight them.
The most effective counter so far has been fishing them out. We have over-fished all sorts of species we like, leading to collapse of some valuable fisheries. Maybe we can do the same with these carp. To that end, studies are being done on the fishes (there are different species) breeding habits.
If you can’t beat em, join em
Parallel to this are studies of profitable uses of the fish. Carp are bony fish, but they are part of Asians and European diets. Gefilte fish is made from carp. The carp meat is mostly tasteless, so it can pick up any flavors sauces and preparation. Ground carp recipes are being developed. On the cheaper level, the fish can be made into fertilizer.
The general principle is that when you have too much of anything, you have both a problem and an opportunity. The Asian carp perform some useful ecological services and they could prove economically viable in the right circumstances. This leads to the other old saying, “if you can’t beat em, join em.”
We cannot beat the Asian carp. We can manage, tolerate and maybe even benefit from their invasion. Like almost everything when talking about ecology, it depends.
Michael W. Fox might be interested in this book, because of his interest in the Great Lakes and the fact that Chicago is the epicenter of the fight against Asian carp. This is a good book to accompany “The Death & Life of the Great Lakes.”