An Arkansas man was charged earlier this month by state Attorney General Bill Schuette with 12 felony counts of possessing and selling live Asian carp in violation of state law aimed at protecting against the spread of invasive species.
David Costner, 42, allegedly possessed, transported and sold 110 grass carp that were housed in tanks in a semi-truck furnished by parent company Farley’s Arkansas Pondstockers.
Grass carp, a type of Asian carp, are herbivorous and could potentially remove all vegetation from a body of water at the expense of native species, according to state officials. They have been illegal to possess in Michigan for decades.
Costner allegedly traveled around the state and sold the illegal carp from store parking lots.
According to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Costner allegedly sold two of the live grass carp to undercover DNR investigators in Midland, Mich. on May 16.
Concerns about Asian carp invading Lake Michigan grew in 2010 when the first live Asian carp, a bighead carp, was caught beyond electric barriers in Lake Calumet near Chicago, just six miles from Lake Michigan.
There are currently four different species of Asian carp listed as invasive species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: The bighead carp, silver carp, black carp, and grass carp.
The two species that are the main threats to the Great Lakes are the bighead and silver carp because both are found in the Illinois River.
Asian carp, first imported to control algae in fish farms along the Mississippi River, escaped during a flood event in the 1990s. Since then, the carp have moved quickly up the Mississippi River and into the Illinois River, the Des Plaines River, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and the Calumet-Sag Channel.
Asian carp can weigh up to 100 pounds, grow to a length of more than 4 feet, and, on average, eat up to 20 percent of their body weight in food each day. They are also extremely prolific. As such, Asian carp pose a major ecological and economic concern because they would out-compete other Great Lakes fish species.
Should the Asian carp get into the state’s inland lakes, especially in an area like Oakland County, their impact on the inland lakes’ ecosystems could be devastating, as well.
“When it comes to the spread of Asian carp, we are very concerned about inland waters,” said Tammy Newcomb, the research program manager in the DNR’s Fisheries Division. “(Asian carp) can spread from the Great Lakes (into inland waters) just by moving naturally up the waterway. And we know that Asian carp do very well in small inland waters. While a spawning population may not be produced in such waters, if a number of them occupy the inland lake, it could disrupt that system’s food web.”
“Once destructive Asian carp enter our waterways, the damage cannot be undone,” Schuette stated in a press release. “We must remain vigilant and use every tool available to protect Michigan’s tourism and sport-fishing industries from this dangerous threat.”
According to DNR Director Rodney Stokes, the department has been aggressively monitoring trafficking of restricted species since the threat of Asian carp entering the Great Lakes became apparent.
“Invasive species in general and the Asian carp in particular pose one of the most serious current threats to the economy and the ecology of the Great Lakes,” Stokes stated in a press release. “The excellent work in this case by the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division is one more indication that we will continue to vigilantly protect the lakes from this menace.”
Citizens who are aware of the trade or movement of any restricted species of fish in Michigan are asked to call the DNR’s 24-hour Report All Poaching (RAP) Hotline at 800-292-7800.
Costner was charged with 10 counts of possession of an illegal species, a felony punishable by two years in prison and a fine of between $2,000 and $20,000 for each alleged violation. He also faces two counts of selling an illegal species, which is also a felony punishable by two years in prison and a fine between $2,000 and $20,000 for each alleged violation.