Asian carp bill will give Canadian Border Services the tools they need

Asian carp are knocking on the Great Lakes’ door and it is imperative that we do everything within our power to keep this invasive species out.   If you have seen the videos of waters infested by these high-jumping and heavy-bodied fish you might be tempted to think they are just dumb and jump into boats for no good reason.  The truth is they represent a big problem and a few dozen fish can take over a waterway with populations that get out of hand quickly.  They are big and dangerous for boaters, offer no sport for fishers, and worst of all decimate food chains by gobbling up the plankton that feeds the smaller species which in turn feed the desirable fish that we eat and enjoy catching.

It is widely expected that if these fish enter the Great Lakes it will be through the canal system in Chicago.  Before that system was built there was a natural barrier separating the lakes from the Mississippi River system which is already infested with the invasive carp.   Closing the canals will be expensive and there are more problems to deal with beyond these carp, not the least of which is the direction that Chicago’s sewage and overflow travels.

In addition to a barring-the-door scenario we must remain vigilant about other ways the carp could enter the Great Lakes basin.  One of these is bait-bucket stocking which can happen when someone moves ‘minnows’ from one watershed to another and then dumps what is left after fishing.  While both frowned on and mostly jurisdictionally illegal there are enough people who either don’t know or don’t care to make this a possible introduction scenario.   We also have to be smart about the way these carp are imported for human consumption – which they most definitely are.    On that front I was proud to stand beside my colleague Brian Masse and officially second his bill in the House of Commons that will help stamp out the importation of live Asian carp into Canada.

Bill C-629 will amend the Fisheries Act to specifically outlaw the import of live Asian carp while giving more powers to the Canadian Border Services who will enforce the new regulations.    On top of those powers, the bill will also increase the minimum fine for violations and has big fines for repeat offenders. While regulatory measures alone will not work to keep the carp at bay, without thoughtful and potent laws, loopholes can and will be exploited.   It would be a tragedy if these carp entered the Great Lakes by way of live release in Canada at the same time as we are encouraging the Americans to deal with the Chicago canal system.

Those following the story closely will know that DNA from the carp has already been found in Lake Michigan near Chicago and more recently in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.  These could be traces of fish carried on any number of items such as boats or fishing gear.  To date no live fish have been found in any of the Great Lakes.  It is in our very best interest to keep things that way and while a regulatory bill may not sound like a flashy response to a very scary problem, it is only by crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s that we will make sure we have done all we can to keep our Great Lakes free of this invasive and destructive species.