skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Josh Mogerman’s Blog

Eating Invasives: Taste of Chicago Asian carp stunt underscores that we can't just "eat 'em all"

Josh Mogerman

Posted July 19, 2012

, , , , , , , , , ,
Share | | |

Carp for Dinner image by jmogs via Flickr

Getting attention at this town’s most high-profile food function, the Taste of Chicago, can be tough. But it’s not every day that folks attending the Taste get free grub. And even less often that they are served one of the most talked about and infamous species around: Asian carp. The agencies tasked with beating back the invasive fish got mounds of attention when they took the unusual step of distributing mini carp-wiches to the first 750 folks who would sample the sliders in a bid to help change public attitudes about carp consumption. It’s a savvy marketing move that garnered a lot of cute clips throughout the Great Lakes region. Sorry to be a killjoy, but the fun event also sends the wrong message. I’ve made the point in the past, but it is worth revisiting in light of the Taste of Chicago stunt:  “If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em” implies we can win the battle with our knives and forks. We can’t.

And worse, moving forward the fishing solution creates an incentive to keep the carp around…

Chicago Tonight’s Ash-har Quraishi gets to the heart of the issue in a report he ran a couple nights ago:

In the backwaters of the Illinois River [an Illinois Department of Natural Resources team is] evaluating whether the carp can be controlled the old-fashioned way - by catching them.

The Catch-22 is that while the ultimate goal is to fish down the populations to prevent ecological damage, there have to be enough Asian carp left to make the business lucrative for commercial fishermen. 

Silver and bighead carp are dangerously close to Lake Michigan. And while the electric barrier in place is keeping most at bay, it isn’t foolproof and some fish are likely getting through already. The newest research points to the possibility of a breeding population in the Great Lakes with less than two dozen fish slipping past. Simply put, we cannot eat all the fish fast enough to stave off the invasion.

But talking about fishing as the solution sounds great. It eliminates the uncomfortable talk of pricey (but more effective) solutions. And it has the ring of making lemon-aide out of lemons: we get to go fishing and sell the varmints to the Chinese at a profit, so everyone wins. But here's the problem: by developing a market for them---dealing with these species like a fishery as opposed to an invasive species that needs to be extirpated---we create a community of people with a keen interest in keeping the fish around for profit. That creates more conflict and dampens the urgency needed to win this fight.

Don’t get me wrong, we need to yank as many of these critters out of the water as quick as we can. In places infested with these buggers like Louisiana and along the Illinois River, we owe it to communities that have been robbed of access to their waterways to fish the heck out of the carp. It can help diminish the problem in those places and slow the forces pushing the dangerous fish towards the Great Lakes. But we cannot fall into the trap of calling this a solution. It’s not. We can put those yummy carp sandwiches in our toolbox (and our lunchbox---I’ve tasted carp and it is indeed good eatin’) to help deal with the problem, but only a separation of the Mississippi River system and Great Lakes can eliminate the superhighway that Asian carp and dozens of other invasive species unaffected by the electric barrier are using to move between North America’s greatest water resources.

Carp for Dinner image by jmogs via Flickr

Share | | |


Tre LaDorminJul 22 2012 11:06 AM

I aggre that we can not eat our way out of this situation. One of the problems with giving out carp-wiches at Taste is that it puts aisan carp eDNA into the waste stream/sewage system in Chicago. This eDNA the travels into the CSSC (Chicago Shipping and Sanitary Canal) upstream of the electric barrier. This eDNA is then "found" upstream of the barrier, and then the public & politicians (via media reports) gets the impression that the barrier and the US Army Corps of Engineers (barrier operator) somehow has failed. Yet no live asian carp has passed through the barrier. Other known/proven ways that asian carp eDNA travels upstream of the barrier include dead asian carp on the deck of vessels transiting the canal, fish eaten by the gulls and comarants downstream of the barrier and released (via fecal matter) upstream of the barrier, asian carp served as entrees in Chicago eateries (prep waste & fecal matter in sewer), and well meaning conservation groups restocking ponds in Chicago inadvertantly with asian carp. All of this has been documented but unfortunately it has not made its way into the public eye.

Josh MogermanJul 23 2012 12:07 AM

Tre, thanks for reading and commenting. The Corps is actually on the midst of testing how long Asian carp DNA can persist (if at all) after going through the digestive tract of various species. While you bring up an interesting point, I don't think that the carp sliders are likely to translate into eDNA hits. It just doesn't work that way, but we can all look for sudden hits around MWRD's treatment facilities. As far as the other potential channels for false eDNA hits you note, none of them are "proven." And they don't explain the many hits near the Willmette sluice gates where there is not barge traffic.

While the electric barrier is clearly holding back most of the carp, it isn't foolproof. As noted in the post, it went down this summer already due to power outage. The Corps has identified issues in stopping young (small) fish and readily admit that individual fish could move through. Frankly, I just don't think the long shots you note explain the ongoing issues we are seeing in the waterways and I am not ready to leave the Great Lakes open to infestation.

One more issue. We should not be focused solely on the carp. There are dozens of invasive species queued up to move between the Lakes and Mississippi River system---many of which are not large fish, and therefore unimpacted by the electric barrier. We need to keep the big problem in view, rather than simply focusing only on the posterboys.

ThamusJul 26 2012 03:53 AM

Josh... You bring up the North Shore Channel and the sluice gates. People forget that fisherman with livewells also are a vector for eDNA. If zebra mussels can make it on recreational trailers across the Rocky Mountains... Surely microscopic eDNA can make it via livewells. The livewell/bassboater vector is the most likely reason why eDNA is being found in the shallows of Lake Calumet and at points on the North Shore Channel. Many fisherman are more and more using the CAW's for recreational purposes. Many fishing tourneys are held in Lake Calumet... Of the positive eDNA hits found this May and June... Sampling was taken right after major bass tourney's were held! Each livewell holds about 30 gallons of water. Who knows where those bassboaters were last... Many come to compete from all over the midwest, even coming from heavily Asian carp infested waters. How are they to regulate this? Ban trailering of boats? You know you are not going to get fisherman to bleach their livewells, it will harm the fish they put in it... They usually dump their livewells on site and let it dry, most likely transporting eDNA via slime.

ThamusJul 27 2012 07:32 PM

Expect to see more about what I have posted here in the future as the studies roll out. Please see the link I posted below. This is why it takes time to complete studies and why reactionary and emotional methods are never best served as permanent solutions. Logical heads should always prevail. I have been saying this since 2009. I have seen with my own eyes multiple vectors which deposit false positive eDNA readings. I too understand that eDNA testing is a valuable form of testing BUT, the testing has to be done cautiously. What they are finding on the CAW's at the heads of navigation/filteration like in Lake Calumet, the north-south confluence, and at the Wilmette Pumping station are most plausibly explained as false positives for eDNA. Notice also that these false positive eDNA readings are overwhelminly silver carp.... Same in MN/WI waters as are 100's miles away in the CAW's. Hmmmm... What do silver carp do special that the other fish do not do? Here is the link:

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Josh Mogerman’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In