One of the most challenging scenarios of the invasive species phenomenon in the US is the heroic battle officials are waging to deter the entrance of Asian carp into the Great Lakes. These Asian imports, silver, bighead, black and grass carp were deliberately brought to the US by operators of aquaculture ponds and aquatic farms in the southern US in the 1970s. Their purpose was to control algae, weeds, and parasites in the farmed ponds. Tragically, during flooding events the fish accidentally escaped into natural river systems. Over several decades they have established a relentless northward migration within the Mississippi River drainage basin. Their colonization of the Great Lakes would constitute an environmental disaster.
Many preventive regulations and millions of dollars have been spent on physical, electronic, sonic, and other means within the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal (CSSC) and other access routes to Lake Michigan. So far, experts hope their vigilance may have achieved the desired goals, but the battle is far from won. Invasive carp species in the US do not cope with the sort of predators they encountered in their native land—a fact we could repeat for many other recently arrived invasive species.
As God’s people we must be aware of causes and effects with respect to environmental issues. In the sphere of our physical environment we benefit not only from intended consequences of our actions, but also from unintended consequences. Undesirable unintended consequences result from lack of knowledge. The OT prophet Hosea (Hosea 4:6) was concerned about the lack of knowledge among the chosen people in their relationship to God. “My people shall perish from lack of knowledge,” the prophet exclaimed. More broadly, knowledge is a desirable treasure in every sphere of physical existence.
Problems with invasive species are often of human creation. An invasive species in America since 1831 is the European, or “common” carp. Late in the 19th century the United States Fish Commission distributed European carp widely across the land as a food source. Culturally, carp are shunned by many US residents as a food product, but in many other countries carp as a food source is accepted. Carp are now ubiquitous across the US, accepted as a fact of life.
Many people enamored by the sport of fishing are not concerned about whether their “catch” is native, non-native, or even invasive. To young people, especially, these distinctions mean little. They love to catch fish—especially large fish! We illustrate by both personal and historic accounts.
The Seneca River drains the famous glacial Finger Lakes of Central New York State, eventually flowing into Lake Ontario. The Seneca flows through Baldwinsville, my birthplace, home of the NY State barge canal. Downstream from the canal locks in Baldwinsville, the river is home to a plenteous population of European carp. All European carp in the US are non-native, including all Seneca River specimens. Therefore, the Seneca River did not provide carp fishing before the introduction of non-native “common” or “European” carp to the US in 1831. We muse about a visit to the Seneca River in 1830.
Our story relates to a national event scheduled for 2022—the “world series” of carp fishing in the Seneca River and nearby Onondaga Lake. Since 2007 Baldwinsville has been the home of the Wild Carp Classic, a famous carp fishing tournament held annually. My brother called my attention to the carp tournament held in my former hometown about ten years ago. The Google search engine has dozens of references to the fame of Seneca River carp. My personal recollections of carp fishing are many: fishing for carp with balled-up white bread pieces, snag fishing from the Niagara-Mohawk Power Plant concrete wall with treble hooks in deep water where one carp nearly pulled me into the river, and other experiences too numerous to recount.
Other ecological nightmares have occurred involving bluegills, a staple of pan fishing enthusiasts, and lake trout, a favorite of deep fresh water anglers. Both species are native to North America. A front page article from a local daily newspaper in Dubuque, IA, May 20, 2020 retells a familiar invasive species story. Proof of the fact that invasive species affect other countries beside New World nations, Japan now has invasive bluegills inhabiting their ecosystems. Bluegills also now inhabit Korea.
In 1960 Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago presented a collection of 15 bluegills to Emperor Akihito of Japan on a visit to Chicago. The emperor envisioned bluegills as an important food source. Instead, descendents of these bluegills have wreaked ecological havoc in Japan’s waterways. Genetic tests have established that all Japanese bluegills originated in one location near Guttenberg, IA. Japanese scientists entered the US in 2002 to carry out sophisticated genetic tests on fish from many different waterways in Iowa. As a result of these tests, the origin of millions of Japanese invasive bluegills was traced to just one location in Iowa—only 15 fish!
Many different fish species can be classified as invasive, causing ecological or economic harm in a new environment where they are not native. There is sometimes a delicate ecological balance among different species of trout. Fascinating stories of introductions in a place where specific species are non-native, and the staggering costs of remediating the damage caused, create fascinating tales.
The lake trout introduced to Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park threatened to displace or reduce a famous trout species prized by anglers and depended upon by grizzly bears and birds of prey. Cutthroat trout are a famous, ecologically important species in Yellowstone Park. Non-native lake trout were deliberately or accidentally introduced displacing or severely reducing the population of cutthroat trout. Many iconic creatures for which Yellowstone is famous were impacted. Since 1994, 3.4 million lake trout were removed from Yellowstone by gill netting, reducing their population by 73% since 2011. The gradual return of cutthroats to Yellowstone Lake and its tributaries continues—an invasive species remediation success story.
Environmental alterations triggered by humanity fall along a spectrum. Some changes are beneficial; some are harmful. Our Creator has bestowed freedom for mankind to manage the environment. God provides wisdom to manage wisely as well as wisdom to avoid and remediate errors. We thank Him for the gift of freedom.