TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan (AP) – Minnesota Senator Foung Hawj has never been a fan of the “Asian carp” label, commonly used for four imported fish species that wreak havoc in the heartland of the United States, affecting numerous rivers, and the Big lakes.
But the final straw came when an Asian business delegation arriving at the Minneapolis airport came across a sign that read “Kill Asian Carp.” It was a well-intentioned appeal to prevent the invasive fish from spreading. But the news was off-putting to visitors.
Hawj and Senate colleague John Hoffman received approval in 2014 for a move under Minnesota authorities to label the fish an “invasive carp,” despite backlash from late radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who ridiculed it for political correctness.
“I’ve had more hate mail than you can shake a stick,” Hoffman said.
Now some other government agencies are taking the same step following the anti-Asian hate crimes that have increased during the coronavirus pandemic. The US Fish and Wildlife Service tacitly changed its name to “invasive carp” in April.
“We wanted to get away from all terms that put Asian culture and people in a negative light,” said Charlie Wooley, director of the Great Lakes Regional Office.
The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, which represents agencies in the US and Canada trying to contain the carp, will also do so on August 2nd, he said.
The moves come as other wildlife organizations consider revising names some consider offensive, including the Entomological Society of America, which removed “Gypsy Moth” and “Gypsy Ant” from its insect list this month.
But switching to “invasive carp” may not be the last word. As experts and policy makers have learned in their long struggle against the productive and cunning fish, almost nothing about them is easy. Scientists, journals, government agencies, phrasebooks, restaurants, and grocery stores may have ideas on what to call them based on different motivations – including getting more people to eat the critters.
This is a priority for researchers who have spent years developing technologies to contain intrusion – from underwater noise generators and electrical currents to network operations.
But the dish, despite its popularity in much of the world, has not caught on with US consumers. For many Americans, “carp” is reminiscent of carp, a bottom feeder known for its “muddy” taste and bony meat.
“In this country, that word is made up of four letters,” said Kevin Irons, assistant fishery chief for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The four species collectively described as Asian carp – thick head, silver, grass and black carp – were brought from China half a century ago to clear southern sewage and aquaculture ponds of algae, weeds and parasites. They escaped into the wilderness and migrated up the Mississippi and other major rivers. The Great Lakes and their $ 7 billion recreational fishery are at risk.
Voraciously and aggressively, silver and bighead plankton devour other fish. Grass carp eat ecologically valuable marsh plants and black carp eat mussels and snails. Silvers can also shoot out of the water like missiles, causing nasty collisions with boaters.
So far, they have mainly been used for bait, animal feed and some other purposes. Philippe Parola, a Louisiana chef, has protected the “Silverfin” label for Asian carp fish cakes, which he developed around 2009.
The state of Illinois and partner organizations hope that a bubbly media campaign in the works will produce greater results. As “the perfect catch” he will describe Asian carp as “sustainably wild, surprisingly delicious” – rich in proteins and omega-3 fatty acids, little mercury and other pollutants.
And it will give the fish a market-proven new name that will remain a secret until the makeover rollout, Irons said. A date was not disclosed.
“We hope it is new and refreshing and that it makes these fish better for consumers,” he said.
The aim is to generate interest along the entire chain – from commercial network operators to processors, grocery stores and restaurants.
The tactic has worked before. After the US National Marine Fisheries Service renamed “Slimehead” to “Orange Roughy” in the late 1970s, the demand for deep-sea dwellers rose so strongly that some stocks were depleted. The Chilean sea bass, another cold water favorite, used to be less appealing than “Patagonian hake”.
But which new label for Asian carp is considered official – “invasive carp” criticized as inaccurate, or whatever the marketing blitz?
It could be either. Or neither.
The rebranding campaign will seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use the new nickname for international trade. But even if the FDA goes along and consumers go along, scientists are a different matter.
The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and the American Fisheries Society have a committee that lists fish titles, including scientific names in Latin and common names invented by people “who originally described the species, or in a field guide or other Reference “. said panel chairman Larry Page, curator of fish at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
For example “Micropterus salmoides”, which became known as largemouth bass, and “Oncorhynchus mykiss” or rainbow trout.
The committee never adopted “Asian carp” as a term for the four invasive species, Page said.
So where did it come from? According to an article in Fisheries magazine, the label popped up in the scientific literature in the mid-1990s and caught on in the early 2000s as fish worries grew.
It was never a good idea, said Patrick Kocovsky, a fish ecologist with the US Geological Survey and one of the authors of the paper, because species affect the environment in different ways.
Song Qian, an environmental science professor at Toledo University who teamed up with Kocovsky on the article, said carp is a valued source of protein in many Asian countries. It is a symbol of good luck in its native China.
“If you say it is invasive, bad and needs to be eradicated, even if it is due to misunderstanding, then you are talking about cultural insensitivity,” said Qian.
It is most accurate to refer to each species of fish, he said, recognition of a collective name is sometimes convenient. The challenge now is to find the right one.
No matter what gets stuck in the end, said Hawj, the Minnesota lawmaker, who immigrated to the US as a child refugee from Laos after the Vietnam War, said he was glad that “Asian carp” are on their way out. He remembered the warm applause he received at an Asia-American conference after announcing that his state had made the change.
“It’s a nuisance, a small thing, but it can go down well,” he said.
Follow John Flesher on Twitter: @johnflesher
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