Terry Rees is the Executive Director of the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations (FOCA), a group that collaborates with Fisheries and Oceans Canada on the Asian Carp Program. Learn how Asian carps could endanger Great Lakes waterfront users, as well as the role that cottagers can play in preventing Asian carp establishment in Canada.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Asian carps were imported from Asia to North America. They have since migrated north through US waterways towards the Great Lakes. Preventing Asian carps from entering the Great Lakes is the most effective way to protect Ontario’s native fish species and ecosystems.
Asian carp pose a threat to the Great Lakes’ $7 billion fishing industry and $16 billion recreation boating industry. Because they can consume nearly half of their body weight in food each day, Asian invaders pose a threat to native fish species.
Bighead carp, silver carp, black carp, and grass carp are the four most well-known species of invasive Asian carp. Carnivorous black carp feed on native mussels and snails, some of which are already endangered. Grass carp are herbivores that feed on aquatic plants. They can change the food webs of a new environment by influencing the communities of vegetation, invertebrates, and fish. Silver and bighead carp are plankton filter feeders, which provide food for larval fish and native mussels.
Silver carp, in particular, have gained a reputation for being easily frightened by boats and personal watercraft, causing them to leap high out of the water. The fish, which can weigh up to 45 kg (99 lb), are capable of jumping up to 2.5-3 m (8 ft 2 in – 9 ft 10 in) into the air, and collisions with the airborne fish have resulted in numerous boaters being severely injured.
For thousands of years, Asian carp has been a popular food fish throughout Asia. The four most well-known species, namely bighead, silver, black, and grass carp, are among the world’s most consumed food fish and have been known as the “Four Great Domestic Fishes” in China since the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD). Some carp recipes include “sweet-and-sour carp” and “thick miso soup with carp.” Many North Americans, however, associate the term “Asian carp” with the common carp, a bottom-feeding, highly bony omnivorous species that is not widely regarded as food by North Americans.
The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Canada has assessed the risk of Asian carp invading Canadian waters, particularly the Great Lakes, either through introduction from the Mississippi or through the live carp market. A few bighead and grass carp have been caught in the Great Lakes of Canada. The Asian carp is known to be established in Canada as of 2019.
FOCA (Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations) is the largest non-farm landowner group in rural Ontario, representing the 250,000 waterfront property-owning families across the province. Since 1963, FOCA has been the voice of the waterfront.