Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via Wikimedia Commons
As the U.S. continues to combat pandemic-induced anti-Asian racism, wildlife experts are tackling it in a unique way: renaming species of fish.
Wildlife groups want to rename “Asian carp,” which refers to four species of invasive fish, New York Daily News reports.
Officials said labeling four different invasive species “Asian carp” invokes xenophobic stereotypes of Asians as encroaching outsiders. For that reason, wildlife groups across the country are working to take the moniker off the books.
“This could be referring to Asian people as being an invasive species, which is just a horrible connotation,” Charlie Wooley, the regional director for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Midwest, told CNN.
Black, bighead, grass and silver carp, the species that are considered “Asian,” first arrived in America in the 1970s. Ironically, the U.S. government imported them from China on purpose to regulate freshwater ecosystems in the South.
But, according to the New York Daily News, the carp escaped the contained environments. They navigated rivers, such as the Mississippi, upstream to reach the Midwest and Canada, where they are now a major nuisance. They lack natural predators in the region and have significantly disrupted the ecosystems with their unchecked growth.
The government and wildlife groups have thus launched long-term campaigns dedicated to reining in the carp population. The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, for example, is composed of nearly 40 different state and federal agencies across the U.S. and Canada. According to its website, its goals include researching to gain a better understanding of the carp and developing technologies that will curb their presence in the Great Lakes.
But all the anti-carp rhetoric has caused concern that the “Asian” label is not only scientifically ambiguous but also actively harmful to the AAPI community in the COVID-19 era. Wooley cited President Biden’s urging of the government to better serve Asian Americans, in conjunction with the multitude of anti-Asian attacks around the country, as inspiration for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to act.
“I looked at that and thought, ‘We need to start to get away from referring to Asian carp,'” Wooley told CNN. “We felt we had a role here.”
Consequently, the agency renamed the fish “invasive carp” in April.
Although it will take time for government agencies and organizations to fully transition from the “Asian” moniker, the change is occurring. On August 2, for example, the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee will rechristen itself the Invasive Carp Regional Coordinating Committee.
“The change is prompted by the need to pivot to a more culturally-sensitive terminology, incorporating an ecological description in lieu of a broad geographic reference,” the committee told CNN.
The movement to rename Asian carp has been in the works for years, though. Minnesota lawmakers first introduced a bill to change the name in 2014. And in 2018, researchers analyzed the problems of the label in a paper for the magazine Fisheries.
“Use of the term is prone to becoming wrapped up in the debate wherein certain groups regard the concept of invasive species as a form of xenophobia,” the researchers wrote. “The collective term ‘Asian carp’ is tightly connected to the undesirable status of these fishes.”
In addition to its anti-Asian connotation, University of Toledo professor and paper co-author Song Qian told the Daily News, the negative moniker also obscures the fact that the carp serve as a valuable food source and good luck symbol in numerous Asian cultures.
Americans are beginning to realize the potential of consuming carp. In June, WTTW reported that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was working on a new name for Asian carp for a more pragmatic reason: to cast it as a more palatable fish to eat.
Because most carp are bottom feeders, they are seen as undesirable. But Asian carp eat plankton and should thus be more appealing to diners.
“As far as freshwater fish, if prepared right, it’s probably as good as it gets,” fisherman David Buchanan told WTTW.
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