"On the road to Mandalay, where the flyin' fishes play, an' the dawn comes up like thunder. Outer China 'crost the Bay!"
As a child that adventurous song of Rudyard Kipling sent me to fantasy land. Fish flying! Today, with realism staring me in the face, I tremble to think of what this one more invasive might do to Minnesota's waters.
Since the Europeans first touched soil of North America, "native" species in one area have received dangerous "exotic" visitors. "Natives" existed in their comfort spots before the white man got here. Anything that did not exist here naturally was called an "exotic." From dandelions, lilac bushes and European bellflower to spotted knapweed, purple loosestrife and leafy spurge on the land, to water's Eurasian water milfoil, flowering rush, and hosts of other plants, invaders threaten native species competing for nutrients and decreasing diet availability for native wildlife.
Among avian exotics are English sparrows and starlings. Even in the soil, "exotics" are earthworms and night crawlers. Night crawlers deplete our forest nutrients by eating the fallen leaf humus. The trespasser arrives; nature struggles to adapt, sometimes prompting extinction of some natives.
Hot button exotics right now are zebra mussels and Asian carp. Here in Becker County, both threaten our lifestyles in dense lake communities, not to mention our property values and dependence on tourism for economic sustenance.
Consider the carp invasion. Initially they were brought to the United States as a way to keep catfish filter ponds clean in lower Mississippi, while fishermen used baby carp as bait. Floods not only freed the carp from ponds, but were their fertility pill. Traveling as much as eight miles a day in search of food while eating half their body weight short-circuited native fishes' access to plankton. They even steal the miniscule plankton of juvenile native fish.
They've made it to Minnesota -- St. Croix, Winona, Lake Pepin -- letting us learn one more thing: they like colder water.
So what can we do about it? Locally, we are doing it with zebra mussels.
1. Our war against stubborn invasive species in all biomes will depend upon the strength of an informed public. I give our local citizens a great deal of credit. The most recent assemblage on zebra mussels boasted some 450 attendees. It's admirable that fishermen along with the rest want to be well informed. Learn details of how to identify. Learn the dangers for boaters in infested waters: need for netting around the boat. In other words, learn, learn, learn about this interloper.
2. Influence our legislators, both state and national. Senators Klobuchar and Franken are very supportive. How can we influence our nation's Supreme Court? The body just refused a request from Michigan and other states to order closure of locks on Chicago-area waterways to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.
3. Respect and financially support the need for research. Who could have known that the 4 species of Asian carp multiply best in flood conditions? Or that they prefer colder water?
4. Use every precaution when dealing with invaders. Just because you don't see trouble doesn't mean it isn't there. Contact experts for advice.
5. Accept that there is no silver bullet. DNR, Fish and Wildlife, Environmental Protection, Pollution Control cannot say, "Presto" and instantly come up with a solution to a problem with which they have never before been confronted. Currently, electronic gates at locks and dams are stopping points. The magnitude of the invasion pressures us for speed, but impulsive action can just add more expense.
6. In the case of carp, we can look into the food angle. Is "carp" a negatively charged word when it comes to Americans eating fish? If so, can we change our attitude? The Asians in Asia actually overfish carp! The meat is white and flavorful.
Done with invasives? I wish. No magic wand will wish them away. An informed, supportive, cooperative public is a helpful answer. For more information, go to http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/aquaticanimals/asiancarp/index.html.
-- Sally Hausken, Detroit Lakes