1 How did you come to write a book about the Asian carp crisis?
I had written a feature about Asian carp for a Canadian magazine in 2013 but was unsatisfied with having had to focus on the Great Lakes, given how huge an issue this is throughout the Mississippi River watershed and toward the Gulf Coast. And when I heard about the Army Corps' plan to spend $18 billion over 25 years to hydrologically separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River, I figured there had to be far more to the story than I had been able to research and report on previously.
2 The story of Fort Wayne's Eagle Marsh is told in one chapter of your book. How does the massive berm constructed there fit into efforts to keep Asian carp from Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes?
After the Asian carp crisis really gained a foothold in the public imagination after 2009, the Army Corps studied possible ways that Asian carp could potentially make it into the Great Lakes. And, after Chicago, Eagle Marsh in Fort Wayne was found to be the second most-likely location for Asian carp to make that passage from one watershed to another.
And once that had been determined, it was only a matter of time before the temporary fence erected in Eagle Marsh was replaced with a permanent earthen berm to keep any Asian carp in the Mississippi side of the marsh from making it into the Great Lakes-connected side of the marsh.
3 You seem to have come away from your research here with great admiration for the Little River Wetlands Project's reclamation work at Eagle Marsh. What should area residents know about what happened there in the wake of the berm project?
I was fascinated with how completely the threat of Asian carp managed to override everything that was happening in Eagle Marsh and force everyone working at the Little River Wetlands Project to completely rethink how they intended to go about their wetland restoration project.
And the scale of the change cannot be overlooked. In order to construct a berm capable of halting Asian carp, huge quantities of earth from within the marsh needed to be moved while construction crews battled rain and mud and the exacting standards of the LRWP staff who rightly wanted to ensure that equipment brought into the marsh to build the berm didn't haul in new invasive species like phragmites.
It was a massive undertaking that, ultimately, redrew a portion of North America's subcontinental divide.
4 As a Canadian observing this effort to protect North American waterways, what do you see as the takeaway on international efforts to protect our environment?
I was told early on that Asian carp were, in many respects, a catalyst for helping state and federal and provincial agencies on both sides of the border find the most effective and efficient ways to work together on invasive species management. Because the truth is that Asian carp will not be the last invasive in the Great Lakes basin that Canada and the United States will be called upon to deal with.
And the level of cooperation we've witnessed has been truly impressive. I was out on a boat near Mississauga, Ontario, in 2014 with researchers from Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans to monitor for Asian carp. As we tried to rustle up some of the invasive fish from the river, I noticed the federal workers I was traveling with were using a broom handle with a plunger screwed to the bottom to smack and slap at the Credit River to startle the fish. Turns out they had discovered this technique while working with commercial fishers in Illinois. Why try something more high-tech, they told me, when this system worked so well?
5 In writing about Asian carp, you sampled some of the fish. Tell us what you thought of it – will we soon find it in local seafood cases and on restaurant menus?
Not likely. Though it's not because the fish don't taste good (they taste like however you flavor them) so much as we haven't found a way to make the market forces behind eating Asian carp work. We don't pay commercial fishers enough per pound to catch them; we don't have the necessary processing capacity to turn them into value-add products like frozen fish sticks; and we don't have enough people demanding the product. Besides – there's still a stigma attached to eating any invasive species, Asian carp included, which makes some restaurants hesitant to serve them for long.
But what did I think of them? I ate them smoked and again battered and fried, served with a butter-cream sauce. The battered version was tasty (more than the smoked version), and if someone told me that all the whitefish that's been served in frozen fish sticks and fillet-o-fish sandwiches for the past two decades have secretly been Asian carp, I don't think I or anyone else would have noticed the difference.
Author Andrew Reeves will talk about his book, “Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian Carp Crisis” in two appearances hosted by the Little River Wetlands Project.
7 p.m. Wednesday
Aboite branch of the Allen County Public Library, 5630 Coventry Lane.
8:30 a.m. Thursday
Breakfast at the Marsh, Indiana Wesleyan University Education & Conference Center, Room 102/104, 8211 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Register by emailing Aly Munger at firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling 260-478-2515.