About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA who started in 1998. He serves as Chief of the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch in Kansas City.
Ever heard of a guy named Lew Zealand? He was the Muppet that threw boomerang fish (I expect a cut of your winnings if you ever go on Jeopardy and this bit of trivia pays off). I thought of Lew because it is field season again and on the Missouri River we have our own airborne fish. They are Asian Carp, a particularly troubling invasive species that have infested waters and pose a potentially devastating effect to the Great Lakes. They were introduced into the catfish aquaculture business in the 1970s but during floods these “prisoners” escaped their ponds into the Mississippi River, and have been on the run ever since. YouTube has a lot of great videos of them in action.
In Region 7 we administer our Regional Ambient Fish Tissue (RAFT) program where samples are analyzed for contaminants such as mercury, pesticides, and PCBs. States use the data to post fish advisories. Our biologists (including Lorenzo pictured here) end up with nets full of carp because they often are the most abundant fish in the Missouri River. If you talk to some of the old timers fishing along the banks they will tell you the odd-looking paddlefish were more abundant in years past. Paddlefish face many challenges from human-induced changes to the river such as dams, loss of habitat due to channel straightening, and illegal harvest of eggs for use as caviar. Now they count flying fish as enemies since the more abundant carp out-compete the paddlefish for food.
As comical as the spectacle of jumping fish may be, invasive species are a serious threat. A plant may look pretty and an animal may seem cute, yet they may wreak devastating damage when introduced into a non-native setting. In 1884 a single Australian released twenty-four European rabbits on his property for hunting purposes. Within ten years those 24 had turned into over 2 million, and started the delicate ecology of Australia into a downward spiral causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage each year and bringing a $30,000 fine for anyone found harboring their own long-eared friend as a pet. For those outdoor enthusiasts among you, consider scanning your State Conservation Department’s website before you head out on vacation this summer. Find out what you can do to make sure you don’t unknowingly take home a hidden hitchhiker.