December 15, 2006



Invaders from afar
by Jim Hightower

Like something from a 1950s horror movie (eerie music here), they came from afar, wriggling into our waterways, endangering our very ecosystem and threatening human safety.

These "things" are fearsome, alien species. They are not creatures from outer space, but invasive, aggressive, highly prolific fish species that have arrived from foreign shores to infest America's waterways. With such names as northern snakeheads, Chinese mitten crabs and Asian carp, they are reproducing like rabbits on Viagra wreaking havoc with their sheer numbers, size and destructive abilities.

Take the Asian carp... please! On the Illinois River and elsewhere, these giants have displaced the native carp and are so big that they rip right through fishing nets. There are millions of them and they leap so powerfully from the water that it's common for boaters to get seriously whacked by them. "We certainly can't take our kids or grandkids out on the river," bemoans one longtime waterman.

On the other hand, these big leapers have spawned a new "sport" called the Redneck Rodeo. Participants either try to shoot the fish in the air or, more benignly, simply grab the leaping carp.

Also, schools of tilapia now swarm in Pennsylvania's Monangahela River, zebra mussels have altered the balance of life in Lake Erie, and Chinese mitten crabs are damaging the banks of waterways from San Francisco Bay to Baltimore Harbor. These invaders come in the ballast water of global freighters, are spread by the sprawling aquaculture industry, or are released by people who bring in exotic species. Since our fragile ecosystem is inextricably connected, a seemingly innocent introduction of a species in one place can quickly become an invasion many miles away.

You see, it's not the fault of the fish... it's ours. Once again, the human footprint is stomping on Mother Nature.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush, on sale from Viking Press. For more information, visit www.jimhightower.com


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