Southern hospitality does not extend to invasive species. Invasive species are the environmental equivalent of uninvited guests that clean out your refrigerator, chip the heirloom china and spill wine on your new rug. Being a gracious host does not mean allowing non-native species to ruin your home. It is not because they are from out of town. The very name – invasive – explains the lack of welcome. These creatures succeed because they overwhelm the native species, outcompeting them for resources.
The fact that both Alabama and Mississippi have lists of outlawed species, however, has done little to slow invasive species’ advancement. This can largely be attributed to the fact that by the time a state issues a law or regulation about a species, that invasive plant or animal has already established itself. Furthermore, while invasive species multiply rapidly, they cannot read.
This spring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that 90 percent of the fish in oxbow lakes along the Yazoo River in Mississippi were silver carp, a notorious invasive. In addition to eating all the food in whatever waterbody they’ve invaded, silver carp are known for leaping out of the water when they are startled – leading to some amazing video as well as injured fishermen.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “Silver Carp … have been the source of numerous reports of injuries to human beings … Reported injuries include cuts from fins, black eyes, broken bones, neck and back injuries, and concussions.”
However photogenic, the fact that 9 out of every 10 fish counted in those lakes was silver carp means those water bodies’ ecosystems are no longer supporting the sport and game species locals depend on. Additionally, high numbers of silver carp can contribute to nutrient overloading (apparently, the fish excrete their body weight every 10 days) in those waterbodies, further impacting native species.
Asian carp, which include silver, black, grass and bighead carp, were deliberately brought to the United States to help with catfish ponds to control aquatic vegetation and also as food fish. Floods released the invaders, and they’ve made their way along the Mississippi River north towards the Great Lakes where they threaten the $7 billion fisheries there. They’ve also headed south, and are found in Lake Pickwick, Alabama, as well as in Mississippi.
Asian carp (excluding grass carp) are some of the few species listed in the federal Lacey Act injurious species provisions, which prohibit importing species that harm the United States’ ecosystem. But laws that prohibit importing species that have already arrived in the United States have not proved successful in eliminating the species. In fact, two of the Lacey Act’s first blacklisted species, English sparrows and the European starling, were removed from the list after almost 50 years out of futility, not success.
Alabama and Mississippi have limited blacklists that primarily address aquatic nuisance species. However, despite the lists, Asian carp get little notice from either state, likely because they’re important to state aquaculture interests. For example, Alabama prohibits the possession, sale, release or import of black carp, but not the other three types of Asian carp. (Ala. Admin. Code r. 220-2-.26).
And Mississippi does not include the silver, black, grass or bighead carp as prohibited aquatic non-native species. In fact, Mississippi permits aquaculture of those species, provided they are held in Alcatraz-worthy systems: No escapes. (Miss. Admin. Code § 2-1-4:11 – “the culture of any non-native carp species… shall be conducted in a responsible manner that excludes the possibility of escape.”) However, it is illegal for anybody to let loose “any nonnative aquatic species,” such as these carp into any private or public waterbody, although grass carp may be released in Mississippi. Grass carp may be “triploid” (having more chromosomes than normal), meaning they are sterile. While the Mississippi regulation does not state that releases of grass carp are limited to triploid fish, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will inspect the carp to provide assurances that the species won’t reproduce.