Jeremy Wade of River Monsters On How To Solve The Silverfin Invasive Species Challenge
Recently I went fishing for Silverfin with Chef Philippe Parola and Jeremy Wade, host of River Monsters, on Black River in Louisiana. Jeremy was filming a documentary for the Discovery Chanel on the world’s great rivers, including the Mississippi River.
Chef Parola, the foremost expert on solving the Silverfin invasive speices issue, had the opportunity to share with Jeremy how to solve the multiple issues Silverfin present to commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, tourism, and the watersports industry up and down the Mississippi River from Illinois to Louisiana.
Is Your Favorite Fish At Risk?
Eight years ago, Chef Parola came to me as the former Executive Director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board expressing his concern for our native species of fish in Louisiana. In our state, these fish grow 30 to 50 pounds on average. Knowing these fish can eat their weight a day in plankton, I got what the Chef was getting at right way.
After invading an area, these fish, in time, can annihilate the vital plant food chain local indigenous seafood rely on. Of concern, Silverfin are proving themselves to invade the brackish waters of Louisiana which no one thought was ever possible; however the Chef predicted this might happen. And it’s starting to:
Per the Luisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Inland Division, “most current distributions of Silverfin (aka Sian Carp) in Louisiana have the four species in the state’s big river systems – Mississippi, Atchafalaya, Black, Ouachita, and Red Rivers – and many of its smaller tributaries, oxbows and backwaters. Additionally, bighead, grass, and silver carps have spread east and west along the coast via the Gulf Intracoastal Water Way into the smaller Gulf of Mexico drainages – Pontchartrain tributaries, Pearl River, Bayou Teche, Vermillion, and Mermentau rivers (Figures 1a and 1b). In the summer of 2017, there have been sightings of “rafts” of adult carp feeding at the surface for plankton in our nearshore estuaries – Vermillion and Cote Blanche Bays. Silver and bighead carp have been collected in LDWF samples in the estuarine areas of the Lower Pontchartrain, Barataria, and Terrebonne Basins. Locations include Lake Lery, Oak River, California Bay, Lake Salvador, Lake Cataouatche, The Pen, Hospital Bay,Wilkinson Canal, Bayou’s Perot and The Rigolets, and Lake DeCade. To what extent the carp expands into coastal estuaries in the future is unknown at this time.“
In simple terms, shrimp, crabs, crawfish, fish etc mature in our brackish waters in estuaries across South Louisiana…as Silverfin invade those areas, our native species in those areas are at risk.
This is the scary part- a single female Silverfin can produce up to one million eggs per year. If nothing is done to address this, it’s uncertain the severity of the impact these fish may have in another decade.
What is certain is that something must be done to protect our native species.
Louisiana Commercial Fisherman Rusty Kimble talks about the real impacts of Silverfin:
Watersports Taking a Hit – Literally
Then there’s the safety issue for watersports. Last year in Louisiana, two young girls tubing in our state had to be rushed to the hospital after Silverfin jumped in their path hitting them. Imagine getting hit by a 30 or 50 pound fish while water skiing?
How did they get here? Where Are They Now?
Well, they started in Arkansas after being imported from South East Asia in the 1970s to help clean up aquaculture and wastewater treatment facilities. Like other invasive species that get lose, flooding allowed the Silverfin to escape the contained environments they were put in. Today the fish are in 31 states including Louisiana.
How Do We Stop Them?
The federal government has tried and tried. In fact our government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars building electrical fences and even trying to poison the fish in an attempt to keep Silverfin out of the Great Lakes. In short, it’s not working as the fish migrate across our country. The simple fact is that it’s impossible to stop a fish that’s infultrated the intricate waterways and river systems that criss cross 31 states.
We need another solution that makes sense. One thing we know how to do and to do extremely well in Louisiana is cook. In the early eighties, Chef Paul Prudhomme introduced Blackened Red Fish to the world. It was such a success, he single handedly nearly wiped out the population of redfish. Today there is a healthy balance.
Similar to Chef Paul, Chef Parola presented his idea to me to bring these fish, then known as Asian Carp, to market for consumption as Silverfin. He created the campaign “Cant Beat Em’ Eat Em.”
I knew if anyone was ever qualified to do this it’s Chef Parola. For starters, he was the very first chef to bring Louisiana alligator to market in the United States which is now considered a delicacy at fine dining restaurants, his specialty without question is working with invasive species. Second, I knew he would be tenacious. As of today, Chef Parola has traveled the Mississippi River from Louisiana to Illinois the past 8 years meeting with environmentalist, government officials, fishermen, media, investors, etc to address this issue.
The one solution that kept bubbling up over and over for Chef has become the one viable and accepted solution that will work where all others have stumbled. By bringing Silverfin to market, we can help balance the consumption of plankton by catching Silverfin making it possible for our native species to co-exist.
Today, in Louisiana, we have the full support of our Governor John Bell Edwards, our Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser and the Secretary of Wildlife and Fieheries, Jack Montoucet to help address this issue.
Not only will addressing the Silverfin issue help protect our native species, we’re helping to create jobs for our fishermen bringing this fish to market.
Louisiana & Illinois Join The Battle Together
This coming January, we will launch the very first Silverfin value added product to market under the “Can’t Beat Em, Eat, Em” campaign in Champaign, Illinois as a collaborative effort with their government officials and tremendous support from Dr. Dawn Aubrey who runs the dining programs at the University of Illinois.
Illinois is ground zero for this issue with over 15, 500 Silverfin per river mile.
Later in the Spring, the Discovery Channel will air their special on the Mississippi River with Jeremy Wade educating viewers worldwide on Silverfin.
Chef Parola On CBS Evening News Talking Silverfin