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SAINT-LAWRENCE RIVER, QC: ASIAN CARP IN THE SAINT-LAWRENCE: A FIFTY-YEAR JOURNEY, QC
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Earlier this week Québec's Ministry of Wildlife, Forests, and Parks confirmed the presence of the Asian Grass carp in the Saint Lawrence river. In addition to the discovery, the department announced measures limiting the use of bait fish in the province. Now the question is how did this invasive species get into the Saint Lawrence and what is being done about it?
We spoke with Véronik de la Chenelière, biologist and interim Chief of the Aquatic Habitats and Fish Production Branch, Wildlife Expertise Directorate of Québec's Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, about the situation. De la Chenelière confirms that the Asian carp issue, at least in the North American context, is really about four separate species "the Grass, Silver, Black, and Bighead carp." Further, she adds that these species were first introduced on the continent over fifty years ago.
According to De la Chenelière, the Asian carp species were initially "introduced into fish ponds in the Southern United States, basically to clean them". De la Chenelière adds that the fish were seen as the "miracle solution" due to the fact that they mature quickly, they grow to large sizes, have large appetites, and are very fertile. Things would have been okay had the fish remained in the ponds in which they were introduced.
Over time, de la Chenelière adds, "they escaped into the natural habitat and slowly invaded the Mississippi watershed." It was in the 1990s and early 2000s that the carp "made their way down stream to edge of the Great Lakes." It was at this point the federal government and the government of Ontario became alarmed in the wake of the "immense damage that was caused by these four species in the Mississippi Basin".
The four carp species have a way of completing each other, according to De la Chenelière "they occupy different ecological niches". What is alarming is that in areas where they establish, "they represent ninety percent of the biomass." Further they "completely change the habitat, and the fish communities" she says.
The presence of these species has impact on commercial and sport fishing. De la Chenelière suggests that the reason Ontario, the federal government, and Great Lake States were so alarmed at the arrival of the fish is because "fishing on the lakes is a $7 billion industry."
The Grass carp was first seen in Québec waters in May 2016 after one was caught by a commercial fisherman. At that time, De la Chenelière tells us that the thought was that it was "just an isolated incident." Fortunately Québec had already begun collaborative work with Louis Bernatchez, Biologist and Professor at Université Laval.
The technique used was inspired from the experience in the Mississippi and Great Lakes called Environmental DNA. De la Chenelière describes the process as "collecting water samples, and filtering the DNA molecules within the water [which allows] the identification of species present" in that particular body. The technique is "especially useful [when trying] to detect rare invasive aquatic species."
"Québec was lucky enough to detect one of these species early", she says. "These species are very hard to control once they are established." The battle is to prevent the carp from establishing themselves in our waters.
De la Chenelière states "that we don't know the size of the population" present in the Saint Lawrence. She adds that "it's too early to tell, and we hope [numbers] are low". There may not be any way "to stop them from expanding their population" in the river, de la Chenelière says. Québec's approach is to prevent a "move into inland waters where our most unique ecosystems are and where most of the sport fishing takes place" in the province.
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