Carterville FWCO Wilmington Substation
Educate Boaters about Aquatic Invasive Species and Learning Too
BY JEREMIAH J. DAVIS, CARTERVILLE FWCO, WILMINGTON, IL - SUBSTATION
IL Substation engages visitors to the USFWS exhibit at the Chicago Boat, RV,
and Strictly Sail Show in Chicago, IL. Credit: USFWS
Staff from the Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) - Wilmington Substation recently conducted a public outreach and aquatic invasive species awareness event as exhibitors at the Chicago Boat, RV, and Strictly Sail Show in downtown Chicago, Illinois (IL). The show attracted nearly 50,000 visitors from all over the Midwest and beyond over the course of four days. Many of these boating enthusiasts stopped by the Service’s exhibit to learn something new about aquatic invasive species. On display were taxidermy recreations of Silver Carp, Bighead Carp, Grass Carp, and Black Carp. These are species that staff from the Wilmington Substation is very familiar with; one hundred percent of the work their office conducts is focused on early detection, monitoring, and control of invasive carp species.
The knowledgeable staff was able to field a variety of insightful questions about invasive carp from the boating public. Most of these interactions illuminated the fact that many boaters are keenly interested in aquatic invasive species issues and were very well informed on many aspects of invasive species prevention and management efforts. The number one question the exhibitors received was “Which one of these fish is the Asian carp?” People were surprised to hear the answer. All four of the fish on display were technically “Asian carp”. Not many people realized that there is more than one species covered under the umbrella term “Asian carp”; or, that the different species all have different ecological niches. Many visitors were interested to learn that only the Silver Carp leaps out of the water and causes damage to boats and their occupants or that Black Carp eat native mussels and snails while Grass Carp feed mainly on aquatic vegetation.
Another interesting take away for staff was the reaction to the word “carp” used in any context. It is “disgust”, typically followed by a comment on how carp are bottom feeders and trash fish. For many people, this is likely a response that has been shaped by interactions with Common Carp which are benthic feeders and are not particularly appetizing. When people learned that Silver Carp and Bighead Carp were not bottom feeders that they only fed very near the bottom of the food web which reduces the likelihood for chemical contamination of the flesh, that they have fine flaky white meat, and that they are actually pretty delicious a majority of boaters were astounded. Armed with some new information, several of the more adventurous boaters even inquired if staff could recommend a good restaurant to sample some Silver Carp. Outreach events are usually good places to spread new information to the public; but, staff from the Wilmington Substation also learned that they are a good place to learn from the public about their understanding and attitudes on aquatic invasive species issues. Armed with this new knowledge, in the future the Biologists and Biological Science Technicians from the Wilmington Substation will choose their words wisely when communicating with the public on the issues surrounding the five species of “Asian carps”.