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Invasive Carp Threaten Great Lakes

02 March 2011

US - Asian carp were allowed into the US under a law governing animal imports that was passed in 1900, and which has remained unchanged, despite a drastically different global trade reality. As two species of Asian carp, bighead and silver, knock at the door of the Great Lakes, conservation and fishing groups are calling on federal officials to finally update import screening laws before the next invader gets here

"Stopping Asian carp should have happened before the first shipment. This incredible threat, this incredible expense, was avoidable," said Jennifer Nalbone, director of Navigation and Invasive Species for Great Lakes United.

"It's time for the antiquated Lacey Act to be modernised so that we never have to fight off another invasion like this again."

During the 111 years since the Lacey Act was adopted, only about 40 animal groups have been prohibited under this legislation, and usually long after the animals have been imported, escaped into the wild, and are causing harm. By modernising the Lacey Act, the US Congress can empower the US Fish and Wildlife Service to first assess the potential risks associated with a species proposed for import before deciding whether to allow or prohibit its trade into the United States.

"Right now the next species that might terrorize the Great Lakes could be on its way to the United States," said Max Muller, policy director for Environment Illinois. "We need Congress to plug the gaping loophole that allows invasive species to be imported into the country, and leaves states like Illinois holding the bag."

Bighead and silver carp are just two of the non-native fish and wildlife species that have been imported into the US and are becoming established and spreading across the country, causing significant environmental and economic damage. Scientists have been working to detect, monitor and respond to these threatening species and others for decades.

"In hindsight, if Asian carp had not been allowed into North America, we would have avoided a crisis that very well may permanently alter the ecology of the Mississippi River and could forever change the Great Lakes, two of the largest and most important ecosystems in this country," said Phil Moy, Fisheries and Invasive Species Specialist from Wisconsin Sea Grant and chair of the Technical and Policy Workgroup for the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee.

The northern snakehead is another species imported into the country under the Lacey Act, and is out-competing other species for food and habitat. The species was imported for the Asian food market and pet trade and first discovered in the wild in a Maryland pond in 2002, where they were released by someone who no longer wanted them.

Although the snakeheads were eradicated from the pond, they later began appearing in the Potomac River and are now well established in the river and several of its tributaries in Maryland and Virginia. One northern snakehead was caught in Chicago's Burnham Harbor in 2004. Northern snakeheads are aggressive predators that can push out native fish species, and according to a risk assessment performed by Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, could establish in portions of the Great Lakes including Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair.

In addition to Asian carp and northern snakehead, aquarium clams and snails like the Asiatic clam, and the banded and oriental mystery snails have established populations throughout the region. If screened for invasiveness before importation, all of these species could have been prevented from being imported into the country.

"In this globalised world, animals are traded across continents every day, and the rules governing the live animal trade in this country need to be brought into the 21st Century," said Dr Phyllis Windle, National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species spokesperson.

"We need to stop the Asian carp, and we also need to learn a lesson from all this," said Captain Rick Unger, president of the Lake Erie Charterboat Association. "It's time to make the changes necessary to ensure the next big invader doesn't threaten the Great Lakes fishing and boating community."

"Our screening law was outmoded four decades ago when Asian carp first entered the country," said Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. "We have to slam the barn door closed before another new invasion is unleashed."

For a factsheet on the Lacey Act with examples of invasive species go to: www.necis.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/2011-screening-factsheet-FINAL.pdf.

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