A federal research fish biologist specializing in Asian carp, Duane Chapman is in the Twin Cities this week attending the American Fisheries Society gathering in St. Paul.
Chapman works for the U.S. Geological Survey in Columbia, Mo., and is at the forefront of the nation's fight against Asian carp. He and other federal scientists, as well as those from various states and academia, are attempting to find the Achilles' heel of bighead, silver and other, similar evil critters.
"Asian carp are not magical,'' Chapman said. "These fish can be controlled. But it won't be easy. And there likely will be ecological and economic consequences to controlling them, when we figure out how to do it.''
In an attempt to understand which types of rivers are suitable for Asian carp spawning, Chapman and his colleagues raise these fish in their Missouri laboratory.
"In the U.S., Asian carp live mostly in rivers,'' he said, "but they actually prefer lakes when they're not spawning.''
Silver, bighead, grass and black carp generally require highly turbulent water for spawning.
"Turbulent waters are needed because if the eggs sink to the bottom, they can die,'' Chapman said. He and other USGS scientists are studying which U.S. rivers not already infested might be vulnerable to carp expansion.
"We're also trying to develop [chemicals] that will be toxic only to Asian carp,'' he said.
Because Asian carp are very long-lived, they can experience back-to-back poor spawning years and still multiply their numbers.
"We'd like to be able to control their big year classes of reproduction,'' Chapman said. "We have some ideas how to do that. But we need to go out and test them.''
Asian carp seem particularly vulnerable when they are young and measure only between 1 and 10 centimeters long.
"That's a bottleneck for these fish, most years,'' Chapman said.
So attacking them at that early life juncture might be best. Is eradication of Asian carp possible in the U.S.?
Perhaps not, Chapman said.
Restricting their expansion might be the best we can hope for, because controlling them once their populations are established will "take a long time and a lot of willpower.
"And it won't be free.''
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