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A Short History of Invasive Species

About 70 percent of recreational boats are occasionally used for fishing, while more than 40 percent are used almost exclusively for angling. So it gives rise to legitimate concerns about the increase in invasive species in our waterways and their negative impact on the native fisheries our customers enjoy.

From the fight to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes to Texas discovering more than 400 invasive fish in the San Marcos River, battling invasives has become a fight that requires increased attention and a serious push for more funding to protect our waters.

Looking at Texas, plecos are a problem. These suckermouth, algae-eating catfish imported from South America, Panama and Costa Rica have few natural predators and none in Texas waters. Researchers from Texas A&M and Texas State universities recently pulled 406 of these invasive fish from the San Marcos, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Facebook post.

How did plecos ended up in Texas rivers? No, they didn’t cross the border illegally. People dumped them from their aquariums. They eat algae in tanks and are popular among aquarists. Released into the rivers, however, they voraciously consume plants and wood and create deep burrows that trigger erosion.

In Florida, lionfish are troublesome, among other species. Lionfish are from the western Pacific and were also released by aquarium owners. A prolific breeder, this aggressive and venomous fish has no natural predators and has reduced the number of sought-after local fish, such as juvenile grouper, snapper, shrimp and crabs, that initially live on the reefs where Lionfish now reside.

In Illinois, the fight is against Asian carp. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources undertakes an annual capture of 750 tons of these fish along the 330-mile Illinois River Basin. At the same time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is installing electric fences and bubbler systems in hopes of keeping the carp from reaching Lake Michigan and decimating the annual $7.1 billion commercial and sport fishing industries.

Goldfish Bowls Are Too Stressful

Speaking of aquariums and fishing, you’ll shake your head at this one. In Belgium, the Animal Welfare Minister claims that round jars — goldfish bowls — are too stressful for fish. He says the smaller surface area in a round bowl affects the amount of oxygen absorbed into the water, putting the health of the fish at risk.

A proposal would prohibit the sale of goldfish bowls, at least in the Brussels region. No to worry if you happen to have one, as the proposed ban would only prohibit the sale of the fishbowls, not the use of them. Ahh, a reprieve.

Bluegills in Japan

Talking about fish stories, there’s this one about how the bluegills caused an environmental crisis in Japan. It’s true. It began in 1960 with an innocent gift from Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley to visiting Prince Akihito: 18 bluegills, which incidentally is the official state fish of Illinois.

It seems the 26-year-old future emperor of Japan was a passionate ichthyologist, and he planned to stock the bluegills in the moat surrounding his palace, according to accounts published in the Chicago Tribune. Unfortunately, a decades-long ecological crisis resulted.

When the prince arrived home, he asked Japan’s national Agency of Fisheries to breed the 15 captive bluegills that had survived the trip. His plan was to release them into the wild as a new gamefish nicknamed, what else, the “prince fish” in his honor. The bluegills’ offspring were deposited into Lake Ippeki-ko. Three years later, a stone monument was even placed on shore to celebrate the successful introduction of the prince fish. More and more bluegills were released into freshwater ecosystems across Japan.

The bluegills became a rapidly reproducing, invading nightmare crowding Japanese freshwater lakes and rivers and destroying native biodiversity, according to Kenji Saitoh, a researcher at Japan’s Fisheries Resources and Education Agency.

However, if there’s any good news in this, science has marched on since the innocent invasion of the Illinois bluegill. Japanese scientists are reportedly experimenting with gene editing to sterilize the invasive bluegills. Think about it. If this initiative succeeds, doesn’t it seem possible that wildlife managers here in the U.S. could adopt the same techniques to rid the us of aquatic invasives?

Moreover, in 2005, Japan passed an “Invasive Alien Species Act” that outlaws importing, possessing and transporting 97 species. And yes, it includes the bluegill.

As history demonstrates, whether it’s a Japanese prince with a souvenir or a U.S. farmer importing Asian carp from eastern China to eat weeds in farm ponds, good intentions aren’t always good enough. Speaking out and supporting increased awareness and funding to deal with invasive species anywhere in our nation’s waterways means good business for boating.



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