Commentary: We must be smarter about invasive species

The alligator gar found in Lake Wateree is just the latest in a growing list of invasive plants and species to worry about.

The lake northeast of Columbia is the farthest east the large, ugly creature has been found, officials say, and its presence almost certainly means somebody brought it there.

Scott Lamprecht, S.C. Department of Natural Resources biologist, told The (Charleston) Post and Courier that a 10-inch alligator gar can be purchased online. They can grow to 10 feet and weigh 200 pounds, making them a prize for bowfishers because "they are big, thrash like an alligator and are enough of a novelty if not a delicacy in some restaurants."

We humans, despite our position at the top of the intelligence pyramid, can do some very dumb things. Not thinking about the ramifications of introducing non-native species of plants and animals into an ecosystem ranks right up there. You'd think we would have learned something from our experience with kudzu, but not so. And it's getting expensive. Economists who have studied the issue say invasive species have caused billions of dollars in economic damage, as well as threatening biodiversity and human health.

The federal government is engaged now in an $80 million effort to stop the advance of Asian carp in our freshwater rivers. The fish are aggressive eaters, consuming as much as 40 percent of their body weight a day in plankton, and frequently beat out native fish for food, threatening those populations, The Washington Post reports. Five states have sued to try to close two locks in the waterway system linking Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River.

The fish were imported in the 1970s to help wastewater treatment facilities in the South keep their retention ponds clean, the Post reports. Mississippi River flooding allowed the fish to escape and then move into the Missouri, Kansas and Illinois rivers. Some species can grow to more than

100 pounds. Fishermen transporting and using them as bait fish are helping to spread them.

Silver carp -- one of two Asian carp species found in the rivers -- have an annoying habit of leaping into the air when disturbed, sometimes whapping boaters upside the head. That can be quite a blow from a 20- to 40-pound fish.

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