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New York state moves to block release of Asian carp
Thursday, February 5, 2004

The Associated Press (Albany, NY)

New York has issued emergency regulations prohibiting most imports of live Asian carp, becoming the last of the Great Lakes states to bar the voracious eater that scientists and sportsmen fear will wreck the lakes' food chain.

There is an exception to the rule in New York, however. The state will allow one of three species of Asian carp, bighead carp, to be transported live into New York City and parts of nearby Westchester County for sale in fish markets.

Carp are popular with Asian-American consumers in the New York City area, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which issued the regulations. Under the new rules, bighead carp have to be killed by retailers before they can be sold.

The ban also applies to live silver carp and black carp, and the eggs of all the species.

Scientists have been watching with rising alarm as Asian carp have gotten closer to the Great Lakes via the upper Mississippi River. The carp probably got into the river in the early 1990s when floods allowed them to escape from fishery operations near the lower Mississippi. They've been advancing upriver ever since.

An experimental electric barrier has been built near Chicago, where the nearby Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal connects the Mississippi with Lake Michigan, to bar the carp from entering the Great Lakes.

The U.S. chairman of the International Joint Commission, a Canadian-American agency that oversees waterways linking the two countries, called the introduction of Asian carp into the Great Lakes a "nightmare scenario."

Asian carp are plankton eaters which can quickly grow to four feet or longer and weigh 60 or more pounds.

Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Great Lakes Fishery Commission, said carp have been likened to vacuum cleaners because they suck so many nutrients out the water, depriving smaller fish who feed on the plankton and the larger fish who, in turn, eat the smaller ones.

Ultimately, Gaden said, the worry is that the food chain will collapse for walleye, bass and other mainstays of the $4 billion-a-year Great Lakes' sport fishing industry.

"They (Asian carp) grow fast, they reproduce quickly and in astounding numbers," Gaden said. "We in the Great Lakes region cannot tolerate even one more invasive species."

Other species including lamprey eels and the zebra mussel have already taken a heavy toll on the Great Lakes, Gaden said.

To make matters worse with the carp, the silver variety can leap as high as 10 feet out of the water if surprised by a passing boat or jet ski. Gaden said more boaters are suffering broken noses and other injuries when they're hit by jumping carp.

President Bush's new proposed budget will include an extra $1 million for research in combatting invasive species in the Great Lakes such as Asian carp.

While praising the state for barring importation of Asian carp, Gaden said the state should have also banned the bighead carp and allowed only filleted carp into New York.

But DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said New York had to balance the potential ecological dangers with economic considerations. The regulations have been in place since January. Violators face up to 15 days in jail, a $250 fine, or both.

"It recognizes the economic market that has been created for bighead carp and allows for that market to continue," she said.

State scientists said there is a minimal threat of a bighead carp surviving if released into the waterways around New York City because all quickly drain into salt water bodies, where the fish cannot live.

New York state is also prohibiting the importation of 28 varieties of snakehead, another hungry Asian import considered an invasive species. It grows to up to 40 inches long and weighs 15 pounds. Officials said the state regulations comply with a federal snakehead importation ban.


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