By Kimberly Holzer
Got… Carp Cakes?
Last month we met with a chef and entrepreneur from Louisiana who developed a unique deboning system to efficiently turn Asian carp into fish cakes, fish gumbo, fish balls, or imitation crabmeat stuffing. While potentially tasty, the commercial production of invasive species as a management approach comes laden with controversy because economic incentives could motivate people to spread harmful species to new locations or cause other problems.
As a Knauss Sea Grant Fellow with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Branch of Aquatic Invasive Species, I have been engaged in debates over possible invasive species management strategies. Invasive species are plants and animals that are nonnative and cause harm to the economy, environment, or human health. They have been shown to negatively affect property values, agricultural productivity, public utility operations, native fisheries, tourism, and ecosystem functions, among other consequences. There is a critical need to control, or better yet eradicate, invasive species such as Asian carp, snakeheads, nutria, mitten crabs, and zebra mussels.
As one example, Asian carp escaped from aquaculture facilities in the 1980s and are displacing native fishes throughout the Mississippi River Basin. They are so large and numerous that they make up 60% of the total biomass in some rivers, and now may jeopardize Great Lakes indigenous fisheries that are worth over $7 billion annually.
While statistics about the carp invasion are troubling, control options, such as commercializing their harvest (“eat carp to beat carp”), present complex socio-economic challenges. Creating demand and interest in a nonnative fish could actually encourage its release to new waterways. Additionally, assigning value to something that we aim to eliminate poses obvious moral hazards. In contrast, establishing a new Asian carp fishery may deplete populations, reducing their negative effects, as well as bring new jobs to local fishermen without native stocks to catch.
As a science policy fellow, rarely does a “simple” policy issue pass over my desk. Pros and cons lists come in very handy as we formulate recommendations for resource managers and decision-makers. So before you purchase a cane toad purse to match your snakehead boots or order carp cakes over garlic mustard greens, take heed of the potential backslide of creating consumer demand for invasive species.
Kimberly Holzer is a 2011 Knauss Fellow working as a Fish and Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Holzer has a doctoral degree in Environmental Sciences from University of Virginia, a Masters in teaching, and multiple teaching experiences including at Princeton, Duke, and UVA, as well as abroad in Bermuda. As Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Holzer works on invasive species, educating groups about different invasives and organizing partners in invasive species control in the U.S. and abroad. As a Fellow, Holzer has traveled across the country, from D.C. to Alaska. Holzer plans to pursue a career in scientific research after her Knauss Fellowship.