Friday, July 15, 2011

Three Guys versus the Asian Carp

This rather unassuming fellow is an Asian Carp.  Specifically, a silver carp.  Not much to look at really, is it?  Back in 1993 a handful of these escaped from a catfish farm in Arkansas, where they had been introduced to keep the water clean.  They got into the Mississippi River and started moving steadily northward.

Asian Carp do very well here, and when they hit the Illinois River they had reached their Promised Land.  Being an extremely fertile and efficient species they have reproduced to the point that some estimates have their numbers at ten billion fish just in the Illinois River.  No, not a typo that, Ten Billion Asian Carp.

Normally we Americans applaud success, and to go from a couple dozen to numbers beyond comprehension in less than twenty years is an impressive feat.  But the whole concept of Asians of any stripe horrifically out competing us is abrasive in these economic times.  And the Asian Carp are a major nuisance.  In addition to driving out native species, the darned things do this:

And this:

The vibrations from outboard motors bother them, so they jump out of the water.  Boaters get clobbered.  Injuries are common. 

Nobody really knows how to get rid of the critters, but it is clear where the current front line is.  The Illinois River connects to Lake Michigan through a shipping canal, which is tenuously protected by electric shock barriers.  What would happen when billions of Asian Carp break through into the Great Lakes is terrible to consider.

There was actually an Asian Carp Summit held at the White House last year where officials from the several Great Lakes states got together to voice concerns.  Stern memos were drafted.

Surprisingly these had little impact.

So on a blazing hot day in July three guys decided to take matters into their own hands.  With roughly 3.3 billion for each of us we knew we had some work to do as we cast off into the Illinois River aboard the good ship Sulaco II.

Number One son running the motor.  He had one carp brush against his cap as it jumped clear over the boat!

Number Three son, better prepared for carp impact.  And looking very Apocalypse Now.

 We motored about at high speeds trying to annoy the carp into jumping so we could smite them with assorted hand weapons.  Some hit the boat with enough force to make it seem like we had been torpedoed.  A couple of us took glancing hits from ten pound fish as they went airborne.  And I can speak from experience now, they smart a bit.

Here you can see a silver carp lying down in the hold amongst our weaponry.  The machete lacked enough reach to be effective, although I think I winged a couple with the T ball bat.  But the best Anti-Carp weapon proved to be a pitchfork we had purchased at a flea market the day before.  It was lots of fun to wield, but it must be admitted that it is difficult to nail a carp on the fly.  They just come at you from nowhere.

Difficult.  Not impossible!
I can't say we really reduced the numbers of the Asian Carp hordes by much.  We found that the carp only jumped in twos and threes, not the huge swarms that we had been expecting.  Apparently two strains of Asian Carp, silvers and bigheads have been interbreeding.  About 85% of them are now hybrids, making them bigger, maybe smarter, but less predisposed to the dramatic jumping behavior. 

As we headed back to the boat landing we went past an Illinois Department of Natural Resources fish shocking boat.  In the same areas where we had encountered quiet waters they had the surface churning with dozens of carp leaping simultaneously like some demented Busby Berkeley water ballet.

It makes one a bit pessimistic.  Evolution is usually a slow process, but when you have billions of fish each producing thousands of offspring it will probably not be long before a mutant turns up that finds the electroshock barriers to be a pleasant experience, sort of like the Magic Fingers Beds you once saw in motels.  15 minutes later they will be through to Lake Michigan.

Perhaps stern memos will not be enough.  Stern actions may also be called for.  Lets hope we do not have to resort to the "Ellen Ripley Option".

     "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit.....It's the only way to be sure."

Addendum 11 March 2012.  For those interested in a Carp safari you might try contacting these fellows.  They seem like guys who are really enjoying the fight against the Carp Peril.  They have some great videos of their antics.  Have a look at this:

Although they employ many of the same weapons we wielded they had a lot more success.  Even though they were laughing the entire time!


Robt said...

Why aren't they being fished? Are they inedible?

Tacitus2 said...


They are edible, and quite a delicacy in the Asian community. But you pretty much have to buy them live and take 'em home right away. They go bad in a hurry. There was discussion of Carp for dinner but it was a long drive on a mid 90s day. The level headed female of the tribe was unenthused.

Welcome Instapunditeers...


Tiny Bunch said...

My grandfather grew prize winning roses. His secret - every spring the family would drive to Pymatuning Lake and fill several large buckets with carp. He'd bury one at the base of each rose bush for fertilizer.

Jennifer said...

What do you guys think about the plan (front page in the Post-Dispatch last week!) to feed Asian carp fish sticks to the poor?

Tacitus2 said...

Tiny Bunch is close to the mark.

I could see a viable business in commercially fishing the critters and grinding them up for fertilizer. One of the reasons they love the Illinois river is all the plankton and algae. They are filter feeders you see. And the river is full green snacks for them because it runs through outrageously fertile farmland.

And that corn needs fertilizin'

Circle of life...


EDH said...

I think Jimmy "JJ" Walker had the right answer:


Anonymous said...

Gill nets - big, long, gill nets - emptied into a bin for grinding into fertilizer. Use the "shocking boats" to drive them into the nets.

Mitch H. said...

Yeah, used for fertilizer sounds like a good plan. That, or feedstock for real fish farms, truck 'em back down to Arkansas to fatten up the fish people pay good money for.

Anonymous said...

Change their name to Asian Barbecue and they would be gone in a month

Anonymous said...

Ummm Is that first Picture correct do they really swim upside down on this side of the world? Maybe they jump high thinking they are going home,

T2 said...

You refer to the odd placement of the eyes. Yep, that's what they look like. They are not actually bottom feeders, so eyes looking down may have actually had some advantage to them if their original predators came from beneath.
Look like a fish from the Simpsons though...

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

So when going out to investigate a mysterious, aggressive, alien organism you choose to go out on a boat called the Sulaco 2? Isn't that a little like going iceberg hunting on the Titanic 2 or sub hunting on the Lusitania 2?

Also, for those asking are they edible, the answer is sort of. They are a bit of a challenge, but more importantly they are simy and disgusting. Its tough to get shop owners or sonsumers to go for the ugly beasts.

T2 said...

Silver carp are now being marketed as "silverfin" in some eateries. So there may be a market.

The problem of getting food to those who need it is always in the logistics. I see no reason to doubt that, for good or ill, these critters would do equally well in Africa. But of course they need water. Albeit not pristine water.

Sulaco 2 was not the offical name of the boat, I just have an odd sense of humor.


kmg said...

A predator species needs to be introduced.

Perhaps the Saltwater Crocodile from Asia...

Or the Green Anaconda from the Amazon.

What could go wrong?

kmg said...

If you don't want to eat them...

And if you don't want to import Saltwater Crocodiles, Green Anacondas, or Kodiak Bears to eat them...

Just grind them up into catfood and fertilizer. Done.

kmg said...

Give greencards to about 8 million Chinese people. This will :

1) Boost housing by getting all unsold units bought up.
2) Offset the retiring baby boomers.
3) Fill up our shortage of engineers and scientists.
4) Deplete all the Asian carp.

paulr said...

Where exactly on the Illinois River is this? I’d like to do my part, catch and wall-mount one of these...

Tacitus2 said...

Havana Illinois. At the junction of the Illinois and (much smaller) Spoon River there is said to be the greatest concentration of Asian carp on earth.

Very nice boat landing.

Show no mercy.


akoh said...

I would like to know where you went to do this. I live in California and have been reading about Asian carp with great interest. I think it'd be fun to go out there and get some. Are there guides who take out-of-towners on expeditions for these guys?

Tacitus2 said...


There are some people who do bow hunting guided tours for asian carp in the Peoria Illinois area.

For low tech smack 'em fun the best bet would be to attend this:

I am pretty sure if you contacted the organizers of this nonsense they would hook you up with somebody. We borrowed a boat that my son had access to as I was not about to haul my rather nice boat all the way from northern Wisconsin and subject it to this kind of abuse.

Go get 'em!