NANFA-- FWD: Black Carp News

Christopher Scharpf (
Tue, 10 Oct 2000 15:03:52 -0400

Invasion of Asian carp worries state officials
Monday October 9, 2000

By <>Bill Lambrecht
Of the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- WASHINGTON - * The black carp, which is native to Asia,
is used here by fish farmers to control mollusks, some of which carry
a parasite that can kill farm-raised fish. Fisheries officials say
the fish 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
out what swims in the river that Mark Twain made famous.

Journeying by boat into a Mississippi River slough, the crew
discovered thousands of carp rolling, leaping in the air and even
landing in their boats.

"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
Asian carp, the bighead, silver and grass carp, flourishing in the
Mississippi and 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
exotic 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
on extinction.

Worried about their waters, fisheries chiefs from Missouri and 25
other states in the Mississippi River basin petitioned the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service this year to declare the black carp "injurious
wildlife." That designation would prevent its importation and
transfer across state lines, and therefore go a long way to prevent
its spread.

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
of 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.
Missouri fisheries administrator Norm Stucky said last week that
Rasmussen's departure "is of great concern to us. He was an
outstanding coordinator."

Officials at the Fish and Wildlife agency are tight-lipped about what
happened to Rasmussen. But there's little question that he was
removed 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
battle 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
the latter by concern for public interest. The public interest
usually doesn't win those battles."

Asian invasion

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
along the Mississippi River a year ago near Wilkinson Island, 90
miles south of St. Louis.

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
Asian carp have traveled into his state's waters via the Mississippi
and Missouri rivers and now are "stacked up like cord wood" behind
dams on Iowa rivers.

Conservation agents argue that the fast-growing carp are accelerating
a decline in native fish, among them the buffalo and the paddlefish,
by out-competing them for plankton. In May, an Asian carp weighing 50
pounds was snagged in the Cumberland River in Tennessee.

"I have affectionately been calling these fish the kudzu of the
aquatic world," said Stucky, Missouri's fisheries chief. "It is hard
to describe how abundant they are. They're huge fish, growing at
incredible rates."

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
imported 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
Kahrs to get rid of the black carp after hearing in 1994 that some of
them had escaped into the Osage River during a flood. The state
apparently hasn't been too insistent, considering that the black carp
are still swimming in Kahrs' ponds.

Kahrs, 73, says the state has no say over what fish he raises, and
that authorities have no proof that his black carp escaped.

He said he received another letter four months ago saying he had
three 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
has 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
the proposed black carp ban.

"Our plea to Fish and Wildlife is don't take away the only tool we
have to protect our farms and our livelihoods unless you give us
another tool," he said.

Freeze complained about the role of Rasmussen, the Fish and Wildlife
employee. Those complaints led to a meeting July 24 in Washington on
the 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,
after complaining in e-mails about being muzzled, the Fish and
Wildlife Service 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.
One of the officials, Rick Schuldt, would say only that "this is a
situation where we can easily put our employee in a very difficult
ethical position."

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
House 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
Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said that Fish and
Wildlife Service "turned tail at the first sign of political
pressure. . . . Their treatment of Jerry Rasmussen has cast a gauzy
restraint over what employees can say."

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
the 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
and animals such as the mongoose and the India wild dog on the
federal list of injurious wildlife.

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
Fresh 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 America

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
United States; they're the canary in the coal mine, if you will. Just
because something is harder to see doesn't mean it shouldn't be
appreciated," he said.

Kevin S. Cummings
Illinois Natural History Survey
607 E. Peabody Drive
Champaign, IL 61820

/----------------------------------------------------------------------------- /"Unless stated otherwise, comments made on this list do not necessarily / reflect the beliefs or goals of the North American Native Fishes / Association" / This is the discussion list of the North American Native Fishes Association / To subscribe, unsubscribe, or get help, send the word / subscribe, unsubscribe, or help in the body (not subject) of an email to / For a digest version, send the command to / instead. / For more information about NANFA, visit our web page,