Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Asian Carp is coming!

That’s the big environmental story around the Great Lakes region this week. Even the local press has caught the news appeal of a bizarre foreign species that might radically change the Great Lakes’ ecology. Because of its size and reproductive capacity, it may scarf up all those little plants and animals that live at the bottom of the five Great Lakes, which, the present ecology depends on. More intriguing to the media are those riveting photos of speeding boaters smacking into these large creatures, which freak every time they hear motorboat noise and leap into the air.

I say ‘might’ because no one can prove that if the Asian Carp makes it way up the Mississippi and into the Great Lakes, they will proliferate and eat everything in site. Though, given their past rap sheet, it’s a good bet they will.

This invasive species is in the news because in their attempt to solve this looming crisis the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is attempting to please all who have solutions to this problem—and in their travails pleasing no one. Stopping the carps’ attempt to enter the Great Lakes via electric fences and closing off all water conduits will be very disruptive to boaters and the shipping industry. Not stopping them might wreak havoc on a scale unimaginable to everything we hold dear about the Great Lakes.

Years ago, the Zebra Mussel problem caught the media’s attention and there was a half-hearted effort to stop what is now our reality—a very annoying invasive and pervasive species that has changed our region’s water ecology and clogged our water intakes. I say, ‘half-hearted’ only in that regulation and enforcement was minimal. However, it may have only slowed the invasion down anyway.

Usually, these wars with foreign species that make it to our continent occur so slowly (over decades) that even if we do notice them, and try all sorts of things to stop them, we soon become bored or run out of money. It seems hopeless. The public accepts the inevitable and we deal with it—with fond memories of what our cottages on the lakes used to be like without these pests that cut up our feet and ruin all the fishing.

When you think about it, the whole issue of invasive species presents so many issues that it can make your head swim. How can we possibly halt the creep of foreign biological invaders here unless we stop all shipping, boating, air travel, hiking, and the sale of exotic pets? Indeed, how could the biology on this continent half a millennium ago have stopped us from coming over from Europe? It boggles the mind.

But, here’s an interesting thought about how we might think about that notorious fish as it steadily inches towards our lakes. Would the Asian Carp threat be so threatening if the Great Lakes ecology was healthy? If the entire ecological structure of the Great Lakes that existed before mankind began overfishing large predatory fish were in place, would the Asian Carp be little more than a side dish? Maybe, if we took better care of our environment it could handle these upstarts.

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