Most anglers know that Asian carp are harming this nation’s fisheries, from the Upper Midwest down to the Gulf Coast and eastward through the Ohio River watershed.
What many do not realize, however, is that another exotic also is doing severe damage. It doesn’t receive as much publicity because its range is more limited.
But down in Louisiana, the nutria, a large rodent, is devouring the wetlands, destroying spawning and nursery habitat for a multitude of important sport fisheries. In fact, the state estimates that damage at any given time is about 46,000 acres, as about 5 million of the web-footed animals with large, orange teeth feed on the roots and stalks of aquatic plants.
The good news is that damage has been lessened since Louisiana implemented a nutria control plan in 2002.
Still, this is one more blow to the Mississippi Delta, which already is under siege from decades of habitat degradation and mismanagement, most of it originating from development and water diversions. As a result, erosion and saltwater intrusion are crumbling away the equivalent of a football field every hour.
In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath added to the peril of an ecosystem that is critical for sustaining the food web of the Gulf of Mexico.
Fortunately, the spill also provided impetus for passage of the RESTORE Act, which provides a rare opportunity to restore and enhance the Delta and its wetlands. Guiding that restoration is a multi-state, multi-agency group known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.
And a coalition known as Vanishing Paradise is working to make sure that Council members remember the importance of habitat restoration, which can drive and support economic recovery.
“The people, business, communities, and economy of this region are undeniably reliant upon a healthy and productive Gulf, and ecosystem restoration should be the top priority in drafting and finagling the Council’s comprehensive restoration plan,” said spokesman Ben Weber.
To learn more about Vanishing Paradise and its efforts, go here.
And to learn more about the nutria in Louisiana, go here.