There’s a war going on out there. The waterways of the United States and Canada are the battlefields for an epic conflict against invaders – vast in numbers and well-equipped to do untold damage to everything they encounter, with absolutely no mercy or remorse. It seems like an all too regular occurrence that when I’m scanning my usual news sources and social media feeds that I see reminders of these invaders and their brutal campaign to destroy fishing and the fishing industry we know and love.
I am, of course, talking about invasive species – Asian Carp, Zebra Mussels, Lionfish, you know the types. The most recent incident that caught my attention was a tweet from Ontario, Canada’s Invading Species Awareness Program, highlighting a new pest that is blighting their waters – a fish I know very well as a European angler – the humble Rudd. These silvery-red, non-carnivorous fish can grow up to about 2lbs in weight and have an average length of about 12 inches… so why so scary? Well, they aren’t supposed to be in Canada. They are breeding at a rapid rate and eating aquatic plants along freshwater shorelines, which are often the spawning and nursery habitats for native fish northern pike and yellow perch, among others. Canadian anglers are being advised to report any sightings immediately as environmental bodies aim to stop Rudd in their tracks.
It got me thinking: just what is the best way to deal with problems like this? The United States is well versed with the playbook for tackling invasive species. I’d say we’re definitely on about ‘Plan Y’ in the battle against Asian Carp. But how do other countries around the world handle it? And are they any better than what is being done in North America right now?
The hard-line approach in recent times comes from ‘down under.’ Australia has a carp invasion of its own – European carp found their way into the waters there as far back as the 1960’s, but the plan to fight them is more like something out of a science fiction movie. The country set up a National Carp Control Plan, which identified that previously used control methods such as poisoning, explosives, traps, electrofishing, and trying to contain them has not really done a huge amount – particularly each in isolation. So, a crack team of Aussie scientists is researching a strain of the carp herpes virus to try and wipe them out, that they’re hoping they’ll be able to perfect and present to the Government at the end of this year. It’s hoped that this, alongside existing methods, could help destroy a pest species that is said to have quadrupled in numbers over the last decade in certain parts of the country.
It’s a slightly different story over in Europe. In Spain, proposals to tackle some so-called invasive species were met with resistance from the fishing tackle trade – 300,000 anglers protesting on the streets of Madrid levels of resistance. Wait, what? That’s right. A couple of years back the Spanish Government attempted to pass some legislation to eradicate some invasive fish species from the country’s waters including carp, black bass and the Wels catfish. The problem was that these species have been ‘invaders’ in Spain so long that the fishing tackle industry here now depends on them. Indeed, a trophy catfish from the River Ebro in Spain is a bucket list item for many European angling tourists.
It’s a similar story here in the UK where zander (closely related to walleye) are still technically classed as a non-native species and are regularly netted from canals to be killed. In fact, it is technically not legal to return one if you catch one from certain waters and fisheries. But despite that, zander fishing is on the rise with the increase in popularity of lure fishing, so there is resistance to the idea that zander should be tackled as a problem by anglers and the industry.
Are these two European examples an indication of how failed attempts to tackle invasive species early on have meant they have become ‘the locals’? Or is it that the trade and the country’s anglers have adapted to the changing fauna of Spanish and British waterways? Could it happen elsewhere – could American anglers soon be getting ready to fish the [insert sponsor here] Asian Carp Classic? Probably not. But it does beg the question about how seriously Governments and the fishing industry bodies around the world are taking the threat of non-native species, and also whether realistically there is a whole lot that can be done once they have got a foothold in the waterways. It seems there’s no one-size-fits-all answer – I guess the only thing that is guaranteed over the next decade or so is change.