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The Asian Carp and the Lacey Act

An article in the Toledo Blade reminded me of the Lacey Act, our first conservation act passed in 1900.

Lady with a Hat decorated with a bird, From the Bain Collection, Library of Congress

From The Mississippi: A Visual Biography:

“Even though the decline of America’s fisheries was noted in the last years of the eighteenth century, and even though Congress addressed the issue with a law in 1871, the conservation movement built slowly as American conservationists created organizations that inventoried America’s natural landscape and its inhabitants and worked to restore and enhance their habitats, and as Congress created agencies to address the declining fisheries and disappearing birds. The movement began with ladies’ hats and the founding of the Audubon Society in 1896.

“In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the fashionable American female head supported a hat laden with feathers–white feathers from egrets, grey-blue feathers from herons, pink feathers from flamingos, gull feathers, tern feathers; stuffed birds–sparrows, bluebirds, warblers, hummingbirds, and the heads of owls; plus fruit, flowers, furs, and frogs. It was quite a load to carry. And, it was threatening the very existence of egrets and herons in the Nation’s wetlands.

“Americans finally responded in disgust and formed Audubon Societies in state after state and waged the first conservation effort to halt the killing of birds for ladies’ hats. Mrs. Harriet Hemenway and her cousin, Miss Minna Hall, of Boston founded the Audubon Society in 1896 when they invited Boston’s society ladies to a series of teas and persuaded them to boycott feathered hats. The cousins created a movement, which spread to other cities and states. In most cases women formed the clubs and invited the men, civic leaders and scientists, to join them. Theodore Roosevelt joined the board of the New York Society, William Brewster, a Harvard ornithologist, the Massachusetts club. In 1901 the state clubs joined together to form the National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals, shortened to the National Audubon Society in 1940.

“In 1900 four years after Hemenway and Hall formed the Boston Audubon Club, Congress passed the Lacey Act, forbidding the interstate shipment of wildlife killed in violation of state laws. As the nation’s first conservation act, it authorized the Secretary of the Interior to restore game and other birds to habitats where they had become scarce or were threaten by extinction, and to regulate the introduction of American or foreign birds or animals into alien habitats. The act directed the secretary to collect information about the breeding habits of game birds and their preservation. The Lacey Act as originally written would be amended over and over, and by the beginning of the twenty-first century would govern the regulation of invasive species.

Last week the U.S. Senate amended the Lacey Act and  passed the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act. In another measure, the House of Representatives passed the Eradicating Asian Carp in the Great Lakes Study Act of 2009 and sent it to the Senate, where it sits. Mike Kirk of Illinois introduced the act. Now that he is a senator, and he is a senator, filling Obama’s seat for the lame duck session, maybe he will persuade the Senate to act on it.

The story goes back to 2002 when Congress members from the Great Lakes states asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to examine the silver carp invasion that threatens Great Lake fisheries.

By now its a familiar story: The carp escaped into the Mississippi River from southern catfish farms and swam north to the very door of the Great Lakes at the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal, where the Corps of Engineers have erected an electric fence to shock them. It’s not working. There is DNA evidence that the carp have gotten to the Lake Michigan side of the fence.

It took until 2007 for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the carp a foreign invader under the Lacey Act.

I have no idea how this affects the chefs and business people in Illinios, who are trying to turn the carp into a commercial item, encourage Americans to develop a taste for carp, and ship it to China, where the Chinese already have a taste for carp.

The Blade article also notes that the carp swimming north along the Wabash River, which heads in Ohio, meanders across Indiana, and runs down the Indiana/Illinois border to the Ohio. The fear is that the carp will breach the divide between the Wabash and the headwater streams of the Maumee River, which flows to Lake Erie at Toledo.

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