Jumping Fish Invade Louisiana

You can’t help but laugh watching the wild web videos of Asian carp leaping out of the water in states like Illinois and Indiana, but you may not realize this problem hits close to home.  Invasive species expert Michael Massimi from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program says it’s no laughing matter.  We spent a day boating with Massimi and Nichols State University Associate Professor of Biology David Schultz on the Caernervon Freshwater Diversion, where along with gators and other marine life, you’ll see an incredible amount of invasive Asian carp. [click here to watch the video that goes with this story]

Schultz says, “We’ve seen it here regularly, the Davis Pond diversion, the Naomi Siphon has quite a few.”

Massimi himself was surprised at just how many of these fish we saw.  “When I get out and see something like this, this is an invasive species 4-alarmer as far as I’m concerned.”

Louisiana is no stranger to invasive species.  Some date back hundreds of years, like the nutria or water hyacinth.  At the Audubon Aquarium, you can see a more recent example, the exotic red lionfish.

Richard Toth tells us why they’re called a pioneer species.  “They’re an animal that can move into an area, adapt to their surroundings, utilize the resources that are there and do it very well.”

None poses a threat quite like the Asian carp, in part because of what this fish eats.  According to Schultz, “They’re filter feeders and they’re extremely efficient filter feeders.”

Massimi elaborates, “The offspring of all of our commercially important fisheries, when they’re born they’re tiny little organisms that this fish is filtering out of the water column in huge quantities.”

Eradicating this fish would be next to impossible.  For one, all of the estuaries and waterways where they live are interconnected.  It’s not like a pond where you can just kill them all off and then restock.  The other problem- there’s a constant flow of Asian carp coming from upstream the Mississippi.

Massimmi says, “We’re kinda down to one option, remove them from the water as best you can.  And so that is only gonna happen if there’s a market or a demand for them.”

That’s where Chef Philippe Parola comes in.  “If you want to beat it, you must eat it.  I guarantee you that’s the only way.”

As he cooks up Asian carp at an outdoor festival, Chef Philippe shares his plans to build a processing plant in Illinois.  “Let’s do business with these guys in Illinois because the politicians of Illinois know how to represent themselves to the federal government.  They’ve got funding for the first processing plant out there and we’re going to be able to ship some of our fish out there.”

According to Massimmi, the idea is a good one.  “We’ve seen with redfish that demand can create a dangerous situation where you overfish the species so it’s certainly possible that that could be a good outcome for us.  I stretch my brain to think of any other way we’re gonna fight these things.”

From the looks of it, that fight won’t be easy.

Some notes from Anne Cutler about this story:I mentioned the fish processing plant.  I tried the fish and it was delicious, but what makes it difficult to cook is the complex bone structure.  So, Chef Philippe is working very hard to find a way to debone them.

The problem with this invasive species is that that department of wildlife and fisheries are paying attention and all the agencies involved are paying attention, but the politicians and public are not.  So the question is how do you get people to pay attention before it’s too late?

Copyright © 2011, WGNO-TV

Anne Cutler

WGNO News

3:50 PM CDT, April 21, 2011

ST. BERNARD PARISH, LOUISIANA