When catching Asian carp becomes profitable
I wrote a column for Michigan Outdoor News’ print edition recently outlining the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s war on invasive Asian carp. Asian carp have devastated the fishing and related tourism industry at Kentucky Lake, Barkley Lake and other areas in the Bluegrass State. Why the column about Kentucky in the Michigan publication? Because Asian carp, though not yet present in Michigan, are a threat and just the threat of invasion has resulted in millions of Michigan taxpayer dollars and fisheries department funds being allocated to prevention efforts.
Kentucky’s newest approach is to make commercial fishing for Asian carp lucrative enough to attract commercial netters to gear up and catch most or all of the over-abundant invaders. Commercial fishermen, especially in freshwater environments, have a long, sad history of over-exploitation of once abundant fish populations.
Blue pike in Lake Erie are extinct. Lake trout were extirpated from all the Great Lakes except Superior, lake sturgeon were nearly wiped out, and there are many other examples. No one thought the commercial harvest would or could be so devastating, but it was. Perhaps Kentucky’s carp war warriors will be equally successful.
It would be great to extirpate invasive Asian carp from North America. The question, however, is would success come with unintended consequences?
What would happen if Kentucky’s program is successful? Most glaring would be the affect on those people enticed into the commercial carp fishing industry. Currently, netters can harvest unlimited quantities of fish and the state ensures the netters receive at least a minimum price for their catch. If the program works, and the unlimited supply becomes increasingly limited, either the state’s subsidy will have to increase or some of the carp warriors will leave the battle. The war would never end.
Total success would come with the realization the investments made by both the public and private sectors were suddenly as obsolete as the machines and facilities that make 35mm camera film. That includes the nets, boats and other equipment used to haul the fish from the water as well as the facilities and other infrastructure used to process the fish into food or other products.
Would the carp killers demand government intervention? Will the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which spent millions of dollars to attract commercial harvesters, have to “buy out” the commercial operators or dole out reparations to those who put themselves out of business?
Would the restaurant industry or retailers of Asian carp products hire lobbyists to demand the project be halted, or at least managed, to maintain a “sustainable” population of these invasive species to keep “their” supply stable?