Arkansas man facing 12 charges in attempt to sell illegal Asian carp
An Arkansas man was charged in June by state Attorney General Bill Schuette with 12 felony counts of possessing and selling live Asian carp in violation of a state law 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.
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.
Grass carp, a type of Asian carp, are herbivores 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.
“The reason people are interested in grass carp is that they are voracious eaters,” said Debbie Munson Badini, a spokesperson for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “They could easily clear a small pond, such as a pond on private property, of vegetation. They keep weeds and other unwanted vegetation out of the water. People who get grass carp want to use them for maintenance of their ponds.”
However, they also pose a threat to native fish species.
“While they help clean the pond of unwanted vegetation — which is why they were used in fish farms in the South — they are a threat to our native species of fish,” Munson Badini said. “If they get into a lake or pond, they could take away important habitats from native fish and other aquatic species that live there.”
Costner allegedly traveled around the state and sold the illegal carp from store parking lots.
According to the DNR, Costner allegedly sold two of the live grass carp to undercover DNR investigators in Midland, Mich. on May 16.
“It’s common to find people who are selling fish and other aquatic species that you can use in your own private ponds at your house,” Munson Badini said. “There are species of fish that do similar things as the grass carp for pond maintenance, and (those species) are legal. You just have to make sure you are getting these fish from a reputable seller such as a licensed fish dealer. But if you’re buying something out of the back of a truck, then you have to question if they have a license and (whether they) are selling species that are allowed in Michigan.”
There are currently four different types of Asian carp listed as invasive species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: The bighead carp, silver carp, black carp, and grass carp.
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.
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.”
DNR Director Rodney Stokes said his department has been aggressively monitoring the 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.”
While grass carp do not pose the same threat to Michigan’s waterways as the bighead and silver carp, they still are a concern due to their propensity to adversely affect good fish habitats.
Grass carp have been rarely found in Michigan waters, and those previous cases in which they were found were usually the result of illegal stocking in Michigan ponds or movements from other states where stocking genetically-altered triploid fish for aquatic vegetation control is allowed, according to the DNR.
Triploid fish are genetically altered to have three instead of two normal sex chromosomes in an attempt to keep them sterile. They are used because they are believed to have a low probability of reproduction. However, there are doubts about the effectiveness of such an approach because the sterilization process may not be 100 percent effective, according to the DNR.
Recently, allegedly photographic evidence indicating the presence of grass carp in Marrs Lake in Lenawee County was sent in to the DNR. The Fisheries Division is investigating the report, and an assessment of the lake was planned for June 18 to see if grass carp are present and if they are reproducing naturally.
“We’ve had two grass carp incidents recently, which doesn’t happen very frequently,” Munson Badini said.
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.