Asian Carp A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Photo © Czanner \ Fotolia.com

It could have been worse. When the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced on May 3 that a Grass carp caught in the Grand River near Lake Erie was sterile, biologists and invasive species experts on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border could breathe a sigh of relief.

But not a big sigh of relief. As it stands, evidence that a 40-lb, 44-inch Grass carp was caught by an angler on April 27 is still cause for concern given that it, along with Silver, Bighead and Black carp are all highly worrisome aquatic invasive species whose possession in Ontario has been banned since 2005.

As it stands, earlier this year the government was seeking public input on a proposed regulation that would require importers to disembowel any of these four species of carp known collectively as Asian carp before they could enter Ontario.

In other words, so worried are Canadian and provincial biologists and policy makers about the potential impact of Asian carp if they become established in Canadian waterways that they have required any variety of the species brought into the province to have had their guts pried out prior to entry. (This regulation came about as a result of live Asian carp being smuggled into the province in ice-filled coolers, which slow the fishes’ metabolisms so greatly that they appear convincingly dead to border agents. Removed from the frigid water, they spring back to life.)

Grass carp are the least aggressive of the four varieties of Asian carp. In fact, some U.S. states allow them to be cultivated in order to control other aquatic invasive plants, provided they have been sterilized. Silver and Bighead carp have wreaked havoc on the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers and their watersheds since the 1970s, out-competing native fish species with their voracious appetites and remarkable fecundity. They have worked their way north through the Mississippi River to the electrified gates erected in Chicago to prevent their escape into the Great Lakes.

Hugh MacIsaac, professor and director of the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research told the CBC that it's not time to push the panic button yet. But had a 40-lb adult Silver or Bighead carp been caught in the Grand River that was capable of reproducing, he might be reaching for that button.

As it stands, after this latest specimen was caught, biologists from the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans Asian Carp Laboratory did preliminary sampling to determine if the fish was capable of reproducing. On May 3, DFO was able to confirm that test results from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Laboratory verified that the specimen was sterile.

“We are obviously very concerned any time an invasive species is identified in the province of Ontario,” said Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti. “This was a less impactful type than the other types of Asian carp, but nevertheless we take the issue very seriously and we don’t believe at this point that they are established in Lake Erie, which is positive news,” he told A\J. Obviously the government needs to be mindful of what the impacts of an established Asian carp population in the province could be and take all the necessary precautions to reduce the threat aquatic and terrestrial invasives pose, Orazietti said.

At the federal level, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield said in a statement: “Our efforts to date have prevented Asian Carp species, including Grass Carp, from establishing in the Great Lakes system.” Ashfield added: “We will continue to be vigilant and respond quickly and effectively and do what is necessary to keep them from taking over this valuable watershed.”

Anglers and boaters in the Great Lakes, especially Lake Erie, in addition to their tributary rivers, are encouraged to report any Asian carp caught or found in the province by calling Ontario’s Invading Species Hotline at 1-800-563-7711.

Andrew Reeves is an environmental writer completing a book about Asian carp in North America. He is a contributing editor at Alternatives Journal and This Magazine’s environmental columnist. His work has also appeared in the Globe & MailSpacing and Corporate Knights.

Follow him on Twitter.

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