Over time, invasive species have upset the natural balance of the Great Lakes. Now, officials are working frantically to stop a new threat, the Asian carp. The carp lives in tributaries connected to the Great Lakes. But there may be another route into the water system – through Asian food stores. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, live carp can be purchased in many cities throughout the region:
Over time, invasive species have upset the natural balance of the Great Lakes. Now, officials are
working frantically to stop a new threat, the Asian carp. The carp lives in tributaries connected to
the Great Lakes. But there may be another route into the water system – through Asian food
stores. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, live carp can be purchased
in many cities throughout the region:
“This one in Chinese, layoo. This one in Chinese…”
York Alooah stands in front of a crowded fish tank at the 168 Market in Ottawa, Canada’s capital.
He points to the fat, foot and a half-long bighead carp swimming behind the glass.
The fish are brought to his store by truck from Toronto. They originate at farms in the southern
Speaking through an interpreter, Alooah says it’s unlikely that a carp could escape during
“They use a big truck and have the fish tank inside.”
Alooah says the fish can’t jump out because the tanks are covered. Still, the live sale of these fish
has many people worried. That’s why states like Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio have
banned the possession of live Asian carp.
Several states are also asking the federal government to add these carp to a list of invasive species
considered harmful. That listing would make it illegal to possess them alive.
In Canada, there aren’t laws like that on the looks. But officials say they’re considering action.
Nick Mandrack is a research scientist with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. He
says Canadian researchers are keeping an eye on an Asian carp population that’s moving north up
the Mississippi River. They worry that the fish will migrate through a manmade canal into the
“If they were to become established, either through dispersal up from the Mississippi or
unauthorized release as a result of the live food trade, they could have enormous impacts on the
Great Lakes ecosystem, which would likely result in a dramatic decline in the biomass of game
That’s because two species of Asian carp eat the same food as small forage fishes. And those
forage fishes are what the larger gamefish rely on. The Asian carp are too big for the gamefish to
Researchers are also worried about two other species. The black carp could wipe out endangered
mussels that live in the lakes. And the grass carp destroys aquatic plants where native fishes live.
Mandrack has seen both the bighead and the grass carp sold live in Asian food stores. He and
others say that poses one of the greatest threats to the Great Lakes fish population.
(sound of fish scaling)
Back at the 168 market in Ottawa, York Alooah uses a long knife to butcher and scale a fish he’s
pulled out of a tank. He laughs when an interpreter asks if people ever leave his store with live
“When people buy, it’s not alive. He clean and kill and clean everything.” Is it never alive?”
In fact, the city of Chicago is hoping to guarantee that doesn’t happen. Officials want stores that
sell live carp to operate under permits. And the fish would have to be killed before it left the
But not all fish is bought for consumption. There’s also concern about a Buddhist practice in
which captive animals are released into the wild.
Tookdun Chudrin is a nun with the MidAmerica Buddhist Association. She says the carp sold in
food stores are not likely candidates for release.
“I think that people would not buy such a large fish for liberation because they tend to get very
small animals and very often will put them in a pond at a temple.
And Chudrin says, Buddhists would want to know if the religious practice was harming other
“I think definitely if there were a sign saying that said putting these fish in the lakes could be
detrimental to other species, I think people for sure would heed that if this was going to endanger
others and the people knew it, I don’t think they’d do that.”
So far, only two Asian carp have been found – in the Canadian waters of the Great Lakes.
Another was released in a fountain in Toronto, just a few blocks from Lake Ontario.
Whether from pranks, or acts of kindness, some fear it’s only a matter of time before more carp
get into the water. They say the Great Lakes could become a giant carp pond, and many of the
species we’ve come to know would disappear.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.