“Innocent until proven guilty” is a great philosophy for our legal system.
But it’s no way to protect fisheries from invasive species.
I delivered that message to the Missouri Conservation Commission Friday, as I spoke in support of regulations proposed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. It’s a message that public officials at all levels need to know about.
MDC wants to protect state waters by prohibiting the import and sale of crayfish. That’s because the agency learned that some species already are established outside their native range, bait shop operators don’t know what they’re selling, and anglers too often release unused bait into the waters that they were fishing.
Not surprisingly, the proposed regulations are opposed by the aquaculture industry and the Farm Bureau. That’s because fish farmers and bait shop owners would lose income --- arguably not much --- if crayfish are taken off the market.
In my five-minute presentation, I made two points not included in MDC’s excellent arguments for the ban on sale of crayfish:
No. 1 is that state and federal agencies repeatedly have failed to protect our lands and waters from invasive species. Mostly that’s because of successful lobbying by special interests, with public concerns often ignored.
For example, failure to rein in the exotic pet industry has resulted in Burmese pythons in the Everglades, about 30 species of exotic fish in Florida waters, and snakeheads in the Potomac and Delaware River systems (Restaurants and markets also contributed to the latter.). And those are but a few examples of the damage done by this special interest.
Plant and nursery businesses have given us dozens of exotic trees, shrubs, and aquatic plants that damage and degrade native ecosystems. Two of the most notable are water hyacinth and giant salvinia, which choke off waterways throughout the South.
In the Great Lakes, the federal government has allowed the shipping industry to introduce dozens of exotic species in ballast water. Zebra and quagga mussels are the most infamous, now threatening lakes, reservoirs, and public water supplies from coast to coast.
And then there’s aquaculture industry. Because of its powerful lobbying in the Mid-South, fish farmers were allowed to import and cultivate silver and bighead carp, which now have spread throughout the Mississippi and Missouri River drainages and are threatening the Great Lakes and its sport fishery, worth $7 billion annually.
No. 2 is the X factor. Scientists generally can predict the impact that invasive species will have. More often than not, the invaders will compete with native species for food and habitat, as well as bring with them the threat of new diseases.
But some consequences simply cannot be predicted. For example, two exotic species ---- zebra mussels and round gobies --- likely have contributed to the death of thousands of loons, gulls, and other fish-eating birds. And eagles are dying because of toxins in an alga that grows on exotic hydrilla.
Missouri’s streams and fisheries are public resources worth millions and dollars and enjoyed by millions of people, I said in conclusion. They should be protected.
To learn more, check out these two Activist Angler posts: Missouri Needs Angler Support to Protect Fisheries from Invasive Crayfish on June 14 and Invasive Crayfish Threaten Fisheries on June 20.