Louisiana launches hunt for silver carp
60-pound alien fish endangers boaters
Tuesday July 22, 2003
By Aaron Kuriloff, Times Picayune
Louisiana wildlife agents have launched a statewide hunt for an invasive alien fish known to leap from the water and endanger passing boaters.
Silver carp, one of three types of Asian carp now suspected of spreading through the state's 64 million acres of fresh waterway, can grow to upwards of 60 pounds. They have a tendency to fly from the water toward noise, lights or vibrations, biologists said.
"They don't jump until a boat comes by," said Mark McElroy, a biologist with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and a member of Gov. Foster's Invasive Species Task Force. "Nobody wants to be heading down the river at 40 miles an hour and have a 25-pound fish hit you in the head."
Wildlife agents have called the fish a threat to public safety, saying collisions with flying carp have knocked boaters unconscious and threaten to increase high-speed motorboat accidents. The fish also crowd the habitat of the paddlefish, a native species that is threatened.
The fish even have become a political issue. Last week, shortly after a Metairie commercial fisher netted more than a dozen bighead Asian carp, close relatives of the silver carp, Gov. Foster vetoed a legislative plan to transfer authority of the state's aquaculture from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which has typically closely regulated the cultivation of non-native species, to the potentially less-restrictive Department of Agriculture.
Foster wrote that the bill failed to "eliminate the risk of irreversible damage" to Louisiana's wildlife.
Aquaculture proponents had argued that the recent carp landings demonstrated that current restrictions on cultivating non-native species weren't working.
Though edible, the fish aren't sold as food, but instead are used as filters, eating the algae that can clog catfish ponds. Still, enough escaped from farms in Arkansas about a decade ago to allow the species to spread north and south along the Mississippi River and to prompt officials last summer to begin constructing a $7 million electric barrier to prevent their passing from the Illinois River into Lake Michigan.
"From the producers' perspective, there's no point trying to hold the barn door closed when the horse has already walked out," said Greg Lutz, an aquaculture expert with the Louisiana State University AgCenter.
Today, a thriving colony of silver carp in the Boeuf River near Jonesville has local boaters avoiding the waterway, and advocating strict controls on the species.
"The fishermen in the area know about them, for sure," said Benny Champlain, who runs a net manufacturer near Jonesville. "I'm surprised that they haven't become more of a problem in the rest of the state. It's a disaster waiting to happen."
Foster has said that he will issue an executive order creating a committee to manage aquaculture in the state, which fish farmers said may open new species for commercial production. But silver carp aren't likely to be on that list for now, McElroy said.
At a recent conference, an official with the U.S. Geological Survey reported that silver carp had rendered sections of the Missouri River nearly impassable, McElroy said.
"He had to build a cage around his driver to keep him from being hit with the fish," he said. "Perhaps we can find a mechanism to consider the importation of new species for culture, but we have to use scientific risk assessment."
The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries would like boaters to report spottings of the silver carp at (225) 765-2800.
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Aaron Kuriloff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3836.
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