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Invasion of Asian carp worries state officials
Monday October 9,
WASHINGTON -- WASHINGTON - * The black carp, which is native to Asia,
is used here by fish farmers to control mollusks, some of which carry
parasite that can kill farm-raised fish. Fisheries officials say
could escape from farm ponds into rivers, threatening some
species of snails
and mollusks with extinction.
The invasion of Asian carp into Midwestern waters never was more
evident than during a recent visit by a Japanese film crew to find
what swims in the river that Mark Twain made famous.
Journeying by boat into a Mississippi River slough, the crew
thousands of carp rolling, leaping in the air and even
landing in their
"One of the cameramen got hit in the head with a fish," recalled
Missouri conservation agent Danny Brown, who accompanied them. "It's
almost unimaginable how many carp are out there."
Fish biologists have plenty to worry about with three species of
carp, the bighead, silver and grass carp, flourishing in the
its tributaries. They were imported for weed control,
and then escaped and
bred in the wild, where they're muscling native
fish out of food.
Now fisheries chiefs are concerned about the arrival of another
species -- the black carp, a voracious fish that grows to 4
feet long and
possesses yet another hunger. The black carp eat
mollusks, such as clams and
snails, many of them rare and bordering
Worried about their waters, fisheries chiefs from Missouri and 25
states in the Mississippi River basin petitioned the U.S. Fish
Service this year to declare the black carp "injurious
designation would prevent its importation and
transfer across state lines,
and therefore go a long way to prevent
The chiefs want to act before the black carp spreads from ponds into
the Mississippi and other rivers.
But to fish farmers, the black carp is a beautiful species. The black
carp devours snails that carry a deadly parasite known as yellow grub
that afflicts farm ponds from Missouri south to Mississippi where
catfish and other species are raised.
Fish farmers are protesting the potential ban all the way to
Washington, and those complaints already have resulted in a casualty:
the federal coordinator for state fisheries in the Midwest.
In August, the Fish and Wildlife Service abolished the job of Jerry
Rasmussen, a federal employee who has worked for a decade as the
coordinator of the Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resources
Association. The organization consists of the state fisheries heads
28 states, including Missouri and Illinois.
State fisheries chiefs are dismayed by the sudden departure of
Rasmussen, a 25-year Fish and Wildlife employee who, by all accounts,
has been extraordinarily helpful to Missouri and other states.
fisheries administrator Norm Stucky said last week that
departure "is of great concern to us. He was an
Officials at the Fish and Wildlife agency are tight-lipped about what
happened to Rasmussen. But there's little question that he was
because of his outspoken concerns about the black carp and
his assistance to
states making a case to ban it.
Rasmussen may have been prophetic when he wrote last spring in "River
Crossings," the state resource association's newsletter, of the
lines forming in the black carp battle.
"Those who support the use of black carp are busy lobbying their
congressman. . . . Those who are opposed will have to do the same.
Unfortunately, the former is driven by investments and profits and
latter by concern for public interest. The public interest
win those battles."
Fisheries experts in Missouri have known since the 1980s that Asian
carp have become a menace since moving in to compete with native fish
for food. But they were startled at what they found at a fish kill
the Mississippi River a year ago near Wilkinson Island, 90
miles south of
When they counted carcasses, 97 percent were species of Asian carp.
Fish and Wildlife officials said fish kills at five other locations
showed similar concentrations of the exotic invaders.
Iowa fisheries chief Marion Connover remarked last week that the
carp have traveled into his state's waters via the Mississippi
rivers and now are "stacked up like cord wood" behind
dams on Iowa
Conservation agents argue that the fast-growing carp are accelerating
decline in native fish, among them the buffalo and the paddlefish,
out-competing them for plankton. In May, an Asian carp weighing 50
was snagged in the Cumberland River in Tennessee.
"I have affectionately been calling these fish the kudzu of the
world," said Stucky, Missouri's fisheries chief. "It is hard
to describe how
abundant they are. They're huge fish, growing at
It's just a matter of time, the fish biologists say, before the black
carp escape from fish farms in Missouri and elsewhere.
Jim Kahrs, who operates Osage Catfisheries in Osage Beach, Mo., has
been battling Missouri for years to keep the black carp that he
from China in 1988 and has bred since. Kahrs says the carp
are his only
means to prevent the spread of the yellow grub parasite
that threaten the
catfish, bass and bluegill and more than 20 other
species that he raises on
250 acres of ponds. He ships the fish
around the world.
Missouri conservation department officials say they first ordered
to get rid of the black carp after hearing in 1994 that some of
escaped into the Osage River during a flood. The state
been too insistent, considering that the black carp
are still swimming in
Kahrs, 73, says the state has no say over what fish he raises, and
authorities have no proof that his black carp escaped.
He said he received another letter four months ago saying he had
months to get rid of the black carp. "We have not done it and
we are not
going to do it. This is private property and it has
nothing to do with the
state or the United States," he said.
Pond owners' pressure
While Kahrs raises black carp for his own use, an ally to the south,
Mike Freeze, co-owner of Keo Fish Farms, in Keo, Ark., raises them to
sell. If you live in Arkansas, Mississippi or one of the states that
no restrictions, you can order fingerling black carp for about
$1.75 in bulk
and foot-long fish for $4.25.
Freeze, who also sits on the seven-member Arkansas Game and Fish
Commission, has been a leader on behalf of fish farmers in fighting
proposed black carp ban.
"Our plea to Fish and Wildlife is don't take away the only tool we
to protect our farms and our livelihoods unless you give us
Freeze complained about the role of Rasmussen, the Fish and Wildlife
employee. Those complaints led to a meeting July 24 in Washington on
issue that apparently sealed Rasmussen's fate.
The meeting, which took place in the office of Sen. Blanche Lincoln,
D-Ark., included Fish and Wildlife director Jamie Clark, Freeze, and
other Arkansans. At that meeting, according to one participant, Clark
declared that Rasmussen would no longer be involved in the black carp
Five days later, Rasmussen was told of that decision. In August,
complaining in e-mails about being muzzled, the Fish and
said that Rasmussen had a conflict of interest and
removed him from heading
the multistate fisheries group. He was
reassigned elsewhere in the agency as
a staff biologist.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials declined to discuss Rasmussen.
of the officials, Rick Schuldt, would say only that "this is a
where we can easily put our employee in a very difficult
Aides to Lincoln declined to comment, as did Rasmussen.
Rasmussen of Bettendorf, Iowa, has been a key player and a popular
figure along the Mississippi River. He was assigned to the White
to coordinate the federal response to the 1993 flood and he
helped to devise
his agency's environmental management program.
Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Washington-based, Public
for Environmental Responsibility, said that Fish and
"turned tail at the first sign of political
pressure. . . . Their treatment
of Jerry Rasmussen has cast a gauzy
restraint over what employees can
William Reeves, state fisheries director of Tennessee and chairman of
the 28-state alliance of fisheries agencies, says Rasmussen will be
missed. "He was the kind of person you could rely on 100 percent of
time. He was right there when states needed him," he said.
Sometime in the next year, the Fish and Wildlife Agency must decide
whether the black carp will join zebra mussels, the walking catfish
animals such as the mongoose and the India wild dog on the
federal list of
Agency biologists are sorting through more than 100 public comments
they have received, among them from the Catfish Farmers of America,
which represents 1,400 fish farms in the United States.
Hugh Warren, the catfish group's executive director, said that his
Mississippi-based trade group recommends that the government approve
sterile black carp so as to minimize the risk of environmental harm.
"This is a temporary solution to an emergency situation," he said.
On the other side of the issue is Paul Johnson, president of the
Water Mollusk Conservation Society, based in Cohutta, Ga.
Johnson said that
escape of the mollusk-crunching black carp could
prove devastating to an
animal suffering from the highest rate of
extinction of any species in the
Already, he said, 77 species of freshwater mussels and snails have
become extinct in North America.
"They're probably the most overlooked conservation issue in the
States; they're the canary in the coal mine, if you will. Just
something is harder to see doesn't mean it shouldn't be