Live Asian carp confiscated at the Canadian border. Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources photo.
The story below by reporter Jim Lynch of the Detroit News offers a foreboding looking at still another way Asian carp can move from state to state: by truck.
The fish are popular as Asian cuisine, apparently, in this case in Toronto where illegal shipments of the fish were destined.
The most recent bust that Lynch reports about was of 2,600 pounds of live Asian carp.
Lynch's story can be read here.
The full story also appears below:
By Jim Lynch Detroit News
The action, it appears, is all focused on Chicago.
Heated debate over how to stop the spread of Asian carp has centered on whether to close the shipping locks around the Windy City.
Meanwhile, Asian carp continue to work their way northward via another means — illegal truck shipments of live fish.
On the Feb. 28, the night of the Michigan Republican presidential primary, Canadian border patrol agents at the Ambassador Bridge confiscated 14,000 pounds of live Asian carp.
It was the third bust in less than two months at the border and the fifth in the past year.
In each case, Asian carp were brought north from fish farms in the southern United States to be sold in Toronto's markets — the fish is popular in Asian cuisine there.
Possessing live Asian carp in Ontario has been illegal since 2005, and the province's courts have levied heavy fines that amount to tens of thousands of dollars against those caught with them. In the United States, it is legal to possess Asian carp, but transporting them across state lines is prohibited.
But even with those laws in place, there are questions about how well the U.S. and Canadian governments are working together to stop the voracious carp from crossing into new territories.
To reach the Canadian border, trucks carrying Asian carp are crossing state lines — often from as far away as Arkansas. Penalties for violation of the Lacey Act range from $10,000 and a year in jail for misdemeanors to up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for organizations that commit the felonies.
Fish farms imported Asian carp to the southern United States in the 1970s. The fish soon escaped the farms and have been slowly working their way northward through the Mississippi River system. Through the connecting Illinois River, they have now reached the doorstep of the Great Lakes.
Once Asian carp inhabit an area, they can quickly dominate all native fish. Their voracious appetite has helped squeeze out other species as they moved north.
A failure to communicate
U.S. officials placed Asian carp — also known as bighead or silver carp — on the list of injurious species covered by the Lacey Act a year ago. In addition to concerns carp will reach Lake Michigan through the lock systems, there has been increased vigilance over the trucking issue.
"Curbing interstate transport of live bighead carp promotes the federal government's goal of preventing the carp's spread into new lakes and rivers in the United States," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said last year.
Despite the sentiment, it is unclear if the United States is following up on the cases identified by Canadian border officials. In addition to the primary night incident, the most recent seizures include:
On Jan. 9, inspectors at the Ambassador Bridge seized 2,600 pounds of live Asian carp in a truck coming from the United States and headed to Toronto.
On Jan. 25, inspectors nabbed another 6,800 pounds of carp at the same spot also headed for Toronto.
Asked what communication between Canadian officials and their U.S. counterparts on those busts has occurred, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources said, "very little."
"The formal route for communicating is through the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission by reports at the regular meetings," said John Cooper, a spokesman for the ministry.
"But usually, if we get a truck stopped at the border or a successful (court prosecution), our U.S. counterparts usually find out about it by reading the newspaper."
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are coy about any follow-up work they are doing on this year's cases, or last year's.
"I would like to stress the importance of the good work that our special agents do across the country," wrote Tina Shaw, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, in response to written questions from The Detroit News.
"Unfortunately, aside from the specifics of the federal laws we are charged to uphold," she added. "I cannot give you any information regarding ongoing investigations."
But it's unclear if there is an ongoing investigation.
Mark Eikenberry, owner of Sweetwater Springs Fish Farm in Peru, Ind., paid a $20,000 fine last year when his truck was stopped at the border with live Asian carp in its holding tanks.
He said the fish, which had been packed in ice, were thought to be dead before they left the state. As such, he never contested the fine.
Eikenberry said Sweetwater has changed its procedures to make sure the problem doesn't occur again.
"Obviously, you stop short of the border to make sure they're dead," he said. "Also, once you've iced the fish heavily on top, you spray down or wet the top layer of ice so it melts together and seals off the flow of air."
Since that incident, more than a year ago, Eikenberry said he has not been interviewed or contacted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.
Shutting transports down
"It's hard for me to believe that there is no attention being paid to these busts on the U.S. side," said Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. "I think it's clear there needs to be an effort to lock this down because there's clearly a trend of (illegal) transporting happening. I think it's time to get on the road and shut it down because it's right there staring at us."
Marc Gaden said he also hoped making transportation of live carp across state lines illegal would send a message.
"We worked, the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission and law enforcement community, to support the listing of Asian carp as injurious under the Lacey Act," said Gaden, communications director and legislative liaison for the commission.
"With that came the understanding that prohibiting the movement of these fish across states and border would be a deterrent … that enforcement would occur."