Concerns about racism, waterways encourage renaming of fish

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan (AP) –

Minnesota State Senator Foung Hawj has never been a fan of the “Asian carp” label commonly applied to four imported fish species that are wreaking havoc in the heart of the United States, infesting many. rivers and surging on the Great Lakes.

But the last straw came when an Asian business delegation arriving at the Minneapolis airport encountered a sign that read “Kill Asian Carp”. It was a well-intentioned plea to prevent the spread of the invasive fish. But the message was off-putting to visitors.

Hawj and his fellow senator John Hoffman won approval in 2014 for a measure requiring Minnesota agencies to label the fish an “invasive carp,” despite the late radio commentator Rush Limbaugh’s reaction, who ridiculed him as politically. correct.

“I’ve received more hate mail than you could possibly get,” Hoffman said.

Now, other government agencies are doing the same in the wake of anti-Asian hate crimes that escalated during the coronavirus pandemic. The US Fish and Wildlife Service quietly changed its designation to “invasive carp” in April.

“We wanted to move away from all the terms that cast a negative light on Asian culture and people,” said Charlie Wooley, director of his Great Lakes regional office.

The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, representing US and Canadian agencies trying to contain carp, will do the same on August 2, he said.

The moves come as other wildlife organizations are considering revising names some consider offensive, including the Entomological Society of America, which this month dropped “spongy” and “gypsy ant.” from his list of insects.

Yet the switch to “invasive carp” may not be the last word. As experts and policymakers have learned during their long struggle with prolific and cunning fish, almost nothing about them is straightforward. Scientists, technical journals, government agencies, language style guides, restaurants, and grocery stores may have ideas on what to call them, based on different motives, including getting more people to eat them. critters.

It is a priority for researchers who have spent years developing technologies to stem the incursion – from underwater noise makers and electric currents to net operations.

But the dish has not wowed American consumers, despite its popularity in much of the world. To many Americans, “carp” is reminiscent of common carp, a ground carp known for its “muddy” flavor and bony flesh.

“It’s a four-letter word in this country,” said Kevin Irons, deputy chief fisheries officer at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The four species described collectively as the Asian carp – bighead carp, silver carp, grass carp, and black carp – were imported from China half a century ago to clear sewage and aquaculture ponds. algae, weeds and parasites. They escaped into the wild and traveled up the Mississippi and other major rivers. The Great Lakes and their $ 7 billion sport fishery are vulnerable.

Voracious and aggressive, silver and a big head gobble up the plankton that other fish need. Grass carp nibble on ecologically valuable wetland plants, and black carp feast on mussels and snails. Silvers can also shoot out of water like missiles, causing nasty collisions with boaters.

So far, they have been mostly caught for bait, pet food, and a few other uses. Philippe Parola, a chef from Louisiana, registered the “silverfin” label for the Asian carp croquettes he developed around 2009.

The State of Illinois and partner organizations hope that a strong media campaign in the works will achieve better results. Dubbed “The Perfect Catch”, he will describe Asian carp as “enduringly wild, surprisingly delicious” – high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, low in mercury and other contaminants.

And that will give the fish a new, market-tested name that will remain a secret until the makeover rolls out, Irons said. No date has been announced.

“We hope it will be new and refreshing and better represent these fish to consumers,” he said.

The goal is to generate interest throughout the chain, from commercial cleaners and processors to grocery stores and restaurants.

The tactic has already worked. After the US National Marine Fisheries Service renamed “slimehead” to “orange roughy” in the late 1970s, demand for the deep sea dwellers increased so sharply that some stocks were depleted. Chilean sea bass, another cold-water favorite, was once known as ‘Patagonian toothfish’.

But what new label for Asian carp will be considered official – “invasive carp,” which has been criticized for being imprecise, or whatever marketing blitz is proposed?

It could be one or the other. Or neither.

The rebranding campaign will seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use the new nickname for interstate commerce. But even if the FDA agrees and consumers buy in, scientists are another 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 imagined by people “who originally described the species. or included them in a field guide or other reference, ”said panel chair Larry Page, curator of fish at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

For example, there is “Micropterus salmoides”, which has come to be known as largemouth bass, and “Oncorhynchus mykiss”, or rainbow trout.

The committee never adopted the term “Asian carp” to refer to the four invasive species, Page said.

So where does it come from? According to an article in the journal Fisheries, the tag began to appear in the scientific literature in the mid-1990s and took hold in the early 2000s as concerns about fish 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 article, because the species affects the environment in different ways.

Song Qian, an environmental science professor at the University of Toledo who teamed up with Kocovsky on the article, said carp is a popular protein source in many Asian countries. It is a symbol of luck in his native China.

“If you say it’s pervasive, bad and needs to be eradicated, even if it’s because of poor communication, that’s why we talk about cultural insensitivity,” Qian said.

It is more accurate to refer to species of fish individually, he said, recognizing a collective name is sometimes handy. The challenge now is to find the right one.

Whoever ends up staying, said Hawj, the Minnesota lawmaker, who immigrated from Laos to the United States as a refugee child after the Vietnam War, he is happy that the “Asian carp” is in. Endangered. He recalled the warm applause he received at an Asian-American conference after announcing that his state had made the change.

“It’s a nuisance, a small thing, but it can resonate a lot,” he said.


Follow John Flesher on Twitter: @johnflesher

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