States in the Mississippi river basin are protesting a decision by the state of Mississippi to allow a foreign fish to be introduced tocontrol a pest. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports… the other states are concerned the fish will escape into the wild and damage the environment:
States in the Mississippi River Basin are protesting a decision by the state of Mississippi to
allow a foreign fish to be introduced to control a pest. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester
Graham reports the other states are concerned the fish will escape into the wild and damage the
If you buy a package of catfish filets at the supermarket or order blackened catfish at your
favorite restaurant, chances are that fish was raised in a farm pond in Mississippi. The state of
Mississippi supplies almost three-fourths of the world’s commercial catfish. It’s a two-billion
dollar a year business, coming in only after cotton and timber as one of Mississippi’s largest
In recent years, Mississippi farmers have been struggling with a parasite that’s attacking the
catfish. Jimmy Avery is a researcher with the National Warmwater Aquaculture Center at Mississippi
State University. He says the parasite is causing quite a bit of damage.
“It’s either killing these fish outright or it’s stressing them to the point they no longer grow.”
Avery says the parasite makes its home in snails. To get rid of the snails, the Mississippi
Department of Agriculture and commerce has approved introducing an Asian fish called the black
carp. The black carp eats snails and mussels. But, other states are worried that the black carp
will escape the farm ponds and get into the wild. Avery says that’s not likely…
“The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce has decided that through the permit
process, we can minimize this. They’ll know where every black carp is located. They’ll know what
kinds of system they’ve been put in and it felt like that those regulations that had been put in
place are strong enough to prevent that.”
But the State of Missisippi’s assurances don’t convince others. Roger Klosek is the Director of
Conservation at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. He studies native mussels.
“If black carp are used to deal with the snail problem, eventually they’ll escape into the main
waterways, and start reproducing. And once they do that, they’ll start feeding on the native
mussel fauna which is one of the last remaining native mussel faunas in the United States and
literally wipe it out.”
Klosek says native mussel populations have already been hurt by another exotic species, the zebra
mussel. He believes the black carp would be the last straw for American freshwater mussels.
“So, somebody’s going to lose and it’s probably better – I know the catfish farmers will hate me
for saying this, but – it’s probably better that they lose a little economically rather than
reduce some of the native fauna to an irretrievable state.”
Some states’ officials agree with Klosek. Bill Bertrand works with the Illinois Department of
Natural Resources fisheries office. He says there’s a history of Asian carp getting loose. The
silver carp, the bighead carp, and the grass carp have already escaped from farm ponds, mostly
from Arkansas where there are few regulations.
“There’s a history of these exotics, imports, escaping into the river system, spreading throughout
the entire river basin system and causing impacts on all the other states in the system. And
Mississippi appears to tend to ignore that fact and go ahead their own merry way, saying ‘Well
we’re doing this because we want to do it and it’s beneficial to us.'”
Bertrand says governors of some of the states along the Mississippi River have sent letters to the
Governor of the State of Mississippi, asking him to stop the use of black carp. Several of the
states intend to ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ban the importation of the fish. The
federal agency has not yet received that request… but even if the Fish and Wildlife service
found a ban was appropriate, it would take several months to go through the process. Even then, a
ban would not apply to black carp already in the U.S.
Mike Oetker is a fisheries biologist with the Fish and Wildlife service. He says the agency is
trying to play the role of mediator.
“Right now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to work with states and the industry to
try to prevent the problem of the possible release or accidental release of black carp into the
environment. There are several alternatives to black carp where we can use native fish such as the
red ear sunfish or freshwater drum or even big mouth buffalo to do the same type of biological
control that the black carp are doing. And that would give of the ability to kind of circumvent
The catfish farmers in the State of Mississippi say the native fish don’t eat the snails as
quickly as the black carp. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce says it will ask
farmers to use chemical treatments first and where native fish will work, they’ll try to use them.
but in the end, the Mississippi agency says it will allow catfish farmers to use black carp when
it appears other methods don’t work.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.