Law Enforcement
Northeast Region
Flying Carp
Silver carp - Illinois River. Credit: USFWS
Silver carp, grass carp, bighead carp. Credit - Bill Reeves, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Asian Carp Seized in Boston, Mass.

Just blocks from the New England Aquarium, the bustling open markets of Boston’s Chinatown fill the air with a symphony of sounds and smells. Regulars here may glance at you briefly, but most heads lower quickly as customers fill their baskets with bok choy, black chickens and unusual looking citrus. Move through the crowd until you reach the back of the market where “seafood department” bears little resemblance to what you find in most supermarkets.

Here, most of the catch is sold live and the men in white coats, bearing fish nets and cleavers, seem more akin to fishery biologists than seafood department employees. Their tools dance with expert precision as your selection is prepared before your eyes.

For the spectator, the scene is exotic and exciting. Signs identify the fish as “bighead carp,” “grass grap” and “buffalo bigmouth.” Odd combinations of common species names and apparent misspellings lead you to wonder, what kind of fish am I buying? 

Four species of Asian carp, bighead, grass, black and silver carps, are considered invasive in the United States. Originally brought to this country in the early 1970s, Asian carp have become well established in the Mississippi River basin and threaten to migrate north to the Great Lakes. Because of their size and capacity for reproduction, Asian carp rapidly dominate ecosystems, decimating native species and their habitat.

In Jan. 2010, special agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and officers from the Massachusetts Environmental Police seized more than 1,000 pounds of live, invasive Asian bighead carp in a sting operation involving several Boston area markets.

“During a market survey in 2009, we found live, invasive carps openly for sale in Asian markets,” said Special Agent Bryan Landry with the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement. “The carps were mislabeled, but the species is very recognizable.”

The seizure was part of an ongoing Lacey Act trafficking investigation involving the unlawful transport and sale of live, invasive Asian carp from the Midwest into the Northeast. The federal investigation, supported by state laws, targets traffickers who, in pursuit of profit, disregard both the law and growing national concern over the spread of these invasive species throughout the United States.

“The seizure in Boston effectively stopped the transport of Asian carp into New England,” said Landry. “The live, invasive species trade could be devastating to our ecosystem and local economies if the fish were released into Northeast waterways.”

The Service and other fishery management agencies are highly concerned about the risk Asian carps pose to the Great Lakes and are working to prevent the invasive fish from damaging the ecological and economic stability of the region.

The Army Corps of Engineers jointly with the Service have constructed a $9 million electric barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to prevent the spread of Asian carp into the Great Lakes. The states of Michigan and Illinois are embroiled in a lawsuit over the full closure of the canal, a case that is now under consideration in federal court.

The 1,000-pound seizure in Boston sent ripples through the illicit carp trade. According to Landry, the message of the seizure was plain for all potential wildlife traffickers.

“Know the state and federal laws pertaining to your trade and if you attempt to cross state lines with illegal cargo, the Feds will soon be knocking at your door.”

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Last updated: January 9, 2012