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Floods, Mercury, and Flying Carp (Stephen Siperstein)

October 16, 2009

I recently watched this fascinating video from the New York Times website (and the related article), and thought it appropriate for thinking about the interrelationships between humans, non-human animals, and the borders between artificial and natural landscapes, specifically those around bodies of water.  The narrative is simple, the implications complex.  Humans import invasive asian carp to control algae growth in stock ponds.  Rivers flood.  Ponds rise.  Nonnative fish escape into Illinois river and other tributaries of the Mississippi, proliferate, and develop self-sustaining populations.  Humans devise a new strategy for hunting the fish–“extreme aerial bow fishing”–because the fish are invasive and destroying food sources (plankton) for native species, hunters can engage in “guilt free hunting.”  However, though the fish’s meat is white and the filets beautiful, humans can’t eat them without fear of mercury poisoning (notice the power plant in the background of several of the video shots).  Wow, what a series of events!

How does our relationship to animal others change depending on the invasive/native binary?  And if so, what ramifications might that have on a larger framework of environmental ethics?  What species should receive our protection?  Or our management?  Which should we hunt?  Which should we protect?  The answers may seem obvious: peregrine falcons [save], starlings [kill], small mouth bass [save], asian carp [kill].  But when does a foreign species start being native?  And when does the label ‘native’ stop making any sense?  In a landscape in which borders are fluid and in which the edges between natural and artificial (e.g. river vs. stock pond) are no longer clear, where floods happen every year and waterlines change daily, the answers are murky and the best we may be able to hope for is that we aren’t hit in the head by a twenty-pound flying carp.

One Comment leave one →
  1. paulbellew permalink
    December 7, 2009 9:55 pm

    I found the following Associated Press article on recently about these flying carp:

    It appears that there’s been some recent evidence suggesting the fish have crossed an electrical barrier and are in danger of spreading to the Great Lakes. Ecodisaster? Quite possibly. Michigan’s governor is trying to have the Army Corps of Engineers temporarily close locks to the Lakes and would further like the tributaries permanently severed.

    Beyond the terrifying thought of twenty-pound fish flying in and out of the Great Lakes, this really shows the constructedness of these waterways and the ecosystems that they contain.

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