Posted on March 7, 2011

Asian Carp Load Nets $50K Fine

Sarah Sacheli, Windsor Star (Ontario), March 4, 2011

A Markham, Ont., trucker who tried to bring a truckload of live Asian carp into the country over the Ambassador Bridge was fined $50,000 in court this week.

Feng Yang, 52, violated the federal Fisheries Act when he tried to bring 1,860 kilograms of bighead carp and grass carp into the country on Nov. 4. It’s against the law to possess live invasive species.

Court heard it’s not his first conviction for the offence. In 2006, he was fined $40,000 for possessing the same invasive species.

Yang is what’s known as a live-hauler, a trucker who drives a semi outfitted with fish tanks. His truck on the day in question had 11 tanks. In with the Asian carp species were some bass, said federal prosecutor Ed Posliff.

Asian carp pose a serious threat to the province’s $5-billion fisheries industry, said Kevin Reid, a biologist with the Ontario Commercial Fisheries’ Association.

They are filter feeders with voracious appetites, competing for food with indigenous species. They will also eat the larvae of sport and commercial fish, Reid said.

“They have already disrupted the food web of the Mississippi River,” said Reid.

Since escaping fish farms, where they were introduced in the 1970s to help reduce algae, Asian carp have been migrating toward the Great Lakes.

To keep them out of the Great Lakes, U.S. governments have taken drastic steps like constructing an electric barrier and pouring poison into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The State of Michigan has filed a lawsuit to permanently close the canal.

Becky Cudmore, senior science adviser with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said the species are so invasive that of every 10 fish now pulled from the Mississippi River, nine are Asian Carp.

“They not only compete for food, they compete for space,” she said. Especially fertile, they reproduce more often and earlier in their lifespan than indigenous species, she said.

“They can populate one area so quickly.”

Some Asian carp species can grow to more than 40 kilograms and more than a metre long. Others can jump three metres out of the water.

Governments on both sides of the border are working together to contain the threat, through a “binational risk assessment,” Cudmore said.

New regulations were added to the federal Fisheries Act in 2005 making it illegal to possess live invasive species. It is not against the law to possess those species if they are dead. Yang, who represented himself in the case, pleaded guilty.

The fish Yang was transporting were likely headed for Asian markets in the Toronto area. There, they are a popular ethnic delicacy.

“It’s my understanding that some ethnic markets prefer their fish to be bought live,” said Reid. Often, they are purchased in twos as part of a ritual. “It’s a tradition. You buy one, kill it and set the other one free.”