A 90-pound, 3-foot-long fish that leaps into a passing boat when it hears an approaching boat motor sounds like a story ripe for a Syfy horror movie.
The movie could be filmed in the very real waters of the Wabash River, which has been invaded by Asian carp. The species include Bighead carp and Silver carp, which are moving northward from the Mississippi River and are a threat to the Great Lakes and Indiana rivers. In the 1970s, fish farmers in the South imported the carp from China as a way to clean commercial ponds. However, the Mississippi River flooded and Asian carp escaped.
Some have worked their way into the Wabash River.
Asian carp eat plankton like there’s no tomorrow and can consume 40 percent of their body weight every day. They aggressively compete for food. In turn, that could upset the natural food chain in rivers and displace native fish species. In the long run, they harm recreational and commercial fishing industries, worth billions to the economy.
Still sound like a distant menace? Maybe a movie version might bring the threat into Hoosier living rooms.
But in Illinois, the problem is real. Illinois experienced the voracious fish more than three years ago. Fearing the carp would get into the Great Lakes, the state of Michigan sued Illinois over its Asian carp control methods. Though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates electric barriers in waterways outside Chicago, it may not be enough to prevent Asian carp from moving into the Great Lakes.
In February 2010, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller joined the lawsuit by filing an amicus brief. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Not discouraged, Zoeller hopped into a friend’s Zodiac speedboat last week to spend four days on the Wabash in hopes of bringing attention to Hoosier environmental concerns, including Asian carp. He carried along a fly-fishing rod.
It is difficult to catch Asian carp with a rod and reel -- they seemingly can tell the difference between plankton and a fisherman. And despite the presence of Asian carp recipes on the Internet -- promising a mild taste -- experts suggest that the fish is not typically prepared for eating. Asian carp are not to be released back into the wild. Certainly catching a few Asian carp in a net won’t remedy the threat. Purdue University researchers are working on a toxin that kills the Asian carp but leaves other aquatic life unharmed.
The threat should be taken seriously, and Indiana should pursue legal remedies by Zoeller’s office and monitoring by the Department of Natural Resources to track and control Asian carp. It isn’t too late to stop the problem.
This all could make a good -- well, at least watchable -- TV horror movie. But movies usually end with problems resolved. This real-life threat is ongoing to Indiana’s rivers.
Asian carp may present a SyFy-like scenario in Indiana rivers, but the threat is real.