The Mississippi and Illinois rivers have more Asian carp than anywhere else on the planet. Even more than China where they came from, according to Brian Ickes, a biologist from the United States Geological Survey who gave a presentation on Asian Carp at the Mississippi River Forum a few weeks ago. In addition to the science, the presentation was rife with ironic observations, and a must read for anyone interested in Asian carp.
Fishermen Orion Briney and Jeremy Fisher use trammel nets to haul in black Asian bighead carp from the Illinois River near Peoria Il. They work out of a 24 ft. aluminum john boat, bringing in 3,000 carp with a full load.
He's studied carp in the Yangtze River basin in China, where the species are in precipitous decline thanks to pollution, development and over fishing. And that's ironic in a couple of ways. First, because the Chinese revere the fish.
"They call it the Leaping Dragon fish, a cultural symbol of bravery, perseverance, and strength, is (a) increasingly endangered in the wild; and (b) perhaps the most domesticated animal on the plant."
That's not how we think of it, perhaps because here the species is in ascendance. Ickes points out -- another irony -- that the reason the fish are doing so well here is because we've been through that industrial pollution phase that China is experiencing now, and we've cleaned up our rivers. As a result, the fish can thrive here when they can't in their native land.
"As far as wild populations go, the greatest density of Asian carp on the planet now likely exists in Illinois waters of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers – places largely inhospitable to aquatic life a mere 60 years ago as we began recovery from our industrialization phase."
Now here is the best part -- the series of historical ironies that land us where we are today.
"We are trying to keep invasive Chinese carps out of the Great Lakes, to protect an invasive (yet purposefully stocked) Pacific salmon fishery, which was stocked as a management tool to control hyper-abundant alewifes, another invasive fish species, because the native piscivore, the Lake Trout, was nearly wiped out by another invasive species, the sea lamprey, because people built the Welland Canal around Niagara Falls to promote intercontinental shipping deep into the Great Lakes basin."
A shipping canal started the sequence in 1939 with the completion of the Second Welland Canal, connecting the Eastern Atlantic to the interior Great Lakes. Similarly, the Cal-Sag Sanitary and Shipping Canal connects the Great Lakes to the interior of the North American continent and even the Gulf Coast."