Invasive Asian carp will be renamed to remove the term’s ‘horrible, xenophobic connotations’


The invasive Asian carp species will be renamed due to the term’s ‘horrible, xenophobic connotations’ in the wake of a surge of anti-Asian hate crimes.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has now joined state agencies in Minnesota in referring to the species as ‘invasive carp’, despite critics ridiculing the move as misplaced political correctness.

Officials claimed that calling the fish ‘Asian’ and advocating their culling had xenophobic connotations – but the move sparked mockery on Twitter where users pointed out that the term referred to where the fish were originally imported from. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has now joined state agencies in Minnesota in referring to Asian carp (pictured) as ‘invasive carp’ 

The move sparked mockery on Twitter where users pointed out that the term referred to where the fish were originally imported from

The move sparked mockery on Twitter where users pointed out that the term referred to where the fish were originally imported from

‘This could be referring to Asian people as being an invasive species, which is just a horrible connotation,’ said Charlie Wooley, director of its Great Lakes regional office.

‘We wanted to move away from any terms that cast Asian culture and people in a negative light.’

Twitter users ridiculed the move on Sunday.

‘So we can’t say #AsianCarp anymore because it’s xenophobic & people might get the wrong idea, think Asians are aggressively invasive & need their population controlled, like the #fish?’ one tweeted. 

‘They’re refered to as that because that’s where we imported em from, not because we’re racist.’

Another wrote: ‘One of THE dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Asian carp are called “Asian Carp” because they originated IN ASIA.

‘This is not a racist thing. Burmese pythons? Native to Burma. Florida alligators? Native to Florida.

‘Instead of changing the names of animal species STOP THE HATE.’  

Minnesota state Sen. Foung Hawj was never a fan of the ‘Asian carp’ label commonly applied to four imported fish species that are wreaking havoc in the U.S. heartland, infesting numerous rivers and bearing down on the Great Lakes.

But the last straw came when an Asian business delegation arriving at the Minneapolis airport encountered a sign reading ‘Kill Asian Carp.’

How Asian carp got their name  

The four species described collectively as Asian carp – bighead, silver, grass and black carp – were brought from China a half-century ago to rid Southern sewage and aquaculture ponds of algae, weeds and parasites.

They escaped into the wild and have migrated up the Mississippi and other major rivers. The Great Lakes and their $7 billion sport fishery are vulnerable.

Voracious and aggressive, silver and bighead gobble plankton that other fish need. Grass carp munch ecologically valuable wetland plants, and black carp feast on mussels and snails.

Silvers can also hurtle from the water like missiles, causing nasty collisions with boaters. 

Hawj and fellow Sen. John Hoffman in 2014 won approval of a measure requiring that Minnesota agencies refer to the fish as ‘invasive carp,’ despite backlash from the late radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who ridiculed it as political correctness.

‘I had more hate mail than you could shake a stick at,’ Hoffman said.

Now some other government agencies are taking the same step in the wake of anti-Asian hate crimes that surged during the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly changed its designation to ‘invasive carp’ in April.

The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, representing agencies in the U.S. and Canada that are trying to contain the carp, will do likewise Aug. 2, he said.

The moves come as other wildlife organizations consider revising names that some consider offensive, including the Entomological Society of America, which this month dropped ‘gypsy moth’ and ‘gypsy ant’ from its insect list.

Yet the switch to ‘invasive carp’ might not be the final say.

As experts and policymakers have learned in their long struggle against the prolific and wily fish, almost nothing about them is simple.

Scientists, technical journals, government agencies, language style guides, restaurants and grocery stores may have ideas about what to call them, based on differing motives – including getting more people to eat the critters.

That’s a priority for researchers who have spent years developing technologies to stem the incursion – from underwater noisemakers and electric currents to netting operations.

But the dish hasn’t caught on with U.S. consumers, despite its popularity in much of the world.

'This could be referring to Asian people as being an invasive species, which is just a horrible connotation,' said Charlie Wooley, director of its Great Lakes regional office (pic)

‘This could be referring to Asian people as being an invasive species, which is just a horrible connotation,’ said Charlie Wooley, director of its Great Lakes regional office (pic) 

For many Americans, ‘carp’ calls to mind the common carp, a bottom-feeder with a reputation for a ‘muddy’ flavor and bony flesh.

‘It’s a four-letter word in this country,’ said Kevin Irons, assistant fisheries chief with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The four species described collectively as Asian carp – bighead, silver, grass and black carp – were brought from China a half-century ago to rid Southern sewage and aquaculture ponds of algae, weeds and parasites.

They escaped into the wild and have migrated up the Mississippi and other major rivers. The Great Lakes and their $7 billion sport fishery are vulnerable.

Voracious and aggressive, silver and bighead gobble plankton that other fish need. Grass carp munch ecologically valuable wetland plants, and black carp feast on mussels and snails.

Silvers can also hurtle from the water like missiles, causing nasty collisions with boaters.

So far they’ve been netted mostly for bait, pet food and a few other uses. Philippe Parola, a Louisiana chef, trademarked the label ‘silverfin’ for Asian carp fishcakes he developed around 2009.

The state of Illinois and partner organizations hope a splashy media campaign in the works will get bigger results. Dubbed ‘The Perfect Catch,’ it will describe Asian carp as ‘sustainably wild, surprisingly delicious’ – high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, low in mercury and other contaminants.

Officials claimed that calling the fish 'Asian' and advocating their culling had xenophobic connotations

Officials claimed that calling the fish ‘Asian’ and advocating their culling had xenophobic connotations

And it will give the fish a market-tested new name, which will remain secret until the makeover rollout, Irons said. A date hasn’t been announced.

‘We hope it will be new and refreshing and better represent these fish for consumers,’ he said.

The goal is to spur interest all along the chain – from commercial netters to processors, grocery stores and restaurants.

The tactic has worked before. After the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service rechristened ‘slimehead’ as ‘orange roughy’ in the late 1970s, demand for the deep-sea dweller rose so sharply that some stocks were depleted.

Chilean sea bass, another cold-water favorite, once was known less appealingly as ‘Patagonian toothfish.’

But what new label for Asian carp will be considered official – ‘invasive carp,’ which has been criticized as imprecise, or whatever the marketing blitz comes up with?

It could be either. Or neither.

The rebranding campaign will seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to use the new moniker for interstate commerce. But even if the FDA goes along and consumers buy in, scientists are another matter.

The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and the American Fisheries Society have a committee that lists fish titles, including scientific names in Latin and common ones thought up by people ‘who originally described the species or included them in a field guide or other reference,’ said panel chairman Larry Page, curator of fishes at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Fishermen are encouraged to net Asian carp in a bid to reduce their numbers and safeguard waterways

Fishermen are encouraged to net Asian carp in a bid to reduce their numbers and safeguard waterways 

For example, there’s ‘Micropterus salmoides,’ which became known as largemouth bass, and ‘Oncorhynchus mykiss,’ or rainbow trout.

The committee has never adopted ‘Asian carp’ as a term for the four invasive species, Page said.

So where did it come from? According to a paper in the journal Fisheries, the label began showing up in scientific literature in the mid-1990s and took hold in the early 2000s as worries about the fish grew.

It was never a good idea, said Patrick Kocovsky, a fish ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and one of the paper’s authors, because the species affect the environment in different ways.

Song Qian, a University of Toledo environmental sciences professor who teamed with Kocovsky on the article, said carp is a valued protein source in many Asian nations. It’s a good-luck symbol in his native China.

‘If you say it’s invasive, bad and needs to be eradicated, even though it’s because of miscommunication, that’s why there’s talk about cultural insensitivity,’ Qian said.

It’s most accurate to refer to the fish species individually, he said, acknowledging a collective name is sometimes convenient. The challenge now is finding the right one.

Regardless of which one eventually sticks, said Hawj, the Minnesota legislator, who immigrated to the U.S. from Laos as a child refugee after the Vietnam War, he’s glad ‘Asian carp’ is on its way out.

He recalled the warm applause he received at an Asian-American conference after announcing his state had made the change.

‘It’s a nuisance, a small thing, but it can resonate greatly,’ he said.



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