Dr. Rob Dillon, Coordinator

Tuesday, January 11, 2000

Black Carp

Many of you may already be aware of plans to ease regulations for the importation of (fertile) Black Carp for snail control in Mississippi Catfish ponds. All of us interested in the conservation of our native freshwater molluscan fauna ought to be very concerned about this. Last week Leigh Ann McDougal emailed me with the very reasonable suggestion that we might wish to send a letter of protest.

In fact, I am happy to report that Al Buchanan, President of the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society, has recently sent a very forceful letter on behalf of us all. Here's the text:

----[begin FMCS letter]----------
January 5, 2000
Lester Spell, Jr., Commissioner
Mississippi Department of Agriculture & Commerce
121 North Jefferson Street
Jackson, MS 39201

Dear Commissioner Spell:

The Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society (FMCS), created in March, 1999, is comprised of malacologists from throughout North America. The FMCS's primary objective is to promote scientific conservation and management of freshwater mollusks, the most imperiled fauna in North America. Society members include mollusk experts from academia, state and federal natural resource agencies, non-governmental organizations, private consultants, the commercial shelling industry, and people from various occupations who have an interest in protection and management of mollusks.

Freshwater mollusks in North America are in jeopardy. During the past century we have lost 35 of the 300 species of freshwater mussels and 42 of the 500 species of freshwater snails native to North America. Additionally, 63 species of freshwater mussels and 144 species of freshwater snails are currently on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service candidate list. Still more are in decline. The decline in freshwater mollusks has occurred because of widespread changes in stream habitats in North America, including water pollution, channel alteration, dam construction, and introduction of exotic species.

The FMCS is concerned about the invasion of North American waters by black carp. Adult black carp feed almost exclusively on mollusks and for some molluscan species could be the "final nail in the coffin". Experience with past introductions of exotic species suggests that dissemination of black carp into a variety of commercial culture facilities will result in the introduction and establishment of this species in U.S. waters. Similar "experiments" with grass carp, silver carp, bighead carp, and other species has resulted in the release, establishment, and widespread proliferation of these species in North America, resulting in significant impacts to native fauna and their habitats. While black carp may be capable of controlling gastropods in small impoundments, native species such as the redear sunfish are as well or better suited to serve the same function.

The conservation status of freshwater mollusks alone should urge you to reconsider your decision to allow the proliferation of black carp into additional commercial hatcheries and production facilities in Mississippi. However, you may also consider the impacts black carp may have on large commercial mussel shelling industries in neighboring states such as Tennessee and Alabama, imperiled species recovery programs in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, and other states, and region-wide mollusk recovery programs coordinated and sponsored by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Exotic species introductions are one of the most serious natural resource issues faced in the United States today. Introduction of exotic species is costing the U.S. taxpayer billions of dollars a year (the zebra mussel alone costs $3 billion a year to heavy industry (Science 1990)). At a time when fisheries professionals are rethinking not only introductions of new species but transfers of genetic stocks between waters, allowing the dispersal of a species with known potential for impacts on native faunas is ill-advised.

Therefore, the FMCS, for the above reasons and others, urges you to reconsider your decision to allow the introduction of black carp in Mississippi. If the FMCS can assist you in finding another biological control solution for eliminating the unwanted snails in your catfish production ponds, we are ready and willing to help. If you have any questions about the FMCS or this issue, please contact me (573/882-9880, Ext. 3257). Thank you.

Alan C. Buchanan, President
Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society
C: Governor Kirk Fordice
------[end FMCS Letter]--------------

Public pressure seems to be having some effect. On 1/10, Al reported:

A bit of kudos for us. Today I saw a letter from the Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture (who is also Chairman of the Missouri Aquaculture Coordinating Council) to Commissioner Spell questioning the wisdom of allowing the proliferation of black carp, so its not just natural resource agency folks who are concerned. Have fun out there.

If any of you on this list have further info on the Black Carp issue, please feel free to share with the group. I'll try to keep us posted.