In an earlier post, “It’s Time to Consider a Bounty on Asian Carp” we advocate exploring a bounty program to help curb or control this invasive species until a long term solution can be developed. However it’s entirely within the realm of thinking that we may never eradicate the Asian Carp so a bounty program will have to be enacted for some form of control. This Post gives some history of bounty programs and a current model in Louisiana that has curbed a large invasive rodent population.
Asian carp are literally at the doorstep of the waters of the Great Lakes. Some of the species DNA evidence has already been found in Lakes Michigan and Erie and are expected to become established there within the next ten years. Asian carp, which are native to Southeast Asia, consume large amounts of plankton to support their rapid growth and massive body weight. This strips an important food source from the lakes and rivers they invade, causing native species such as Walleye, Whitefish and Yellow Perch to be stressed, starve and die.
Authorities in the states surrounding the Great Lakes are scrambling to find a way to rid the nearby rivers in Illinois of Asian carp and prevent their migration and permanent establishment in the Great Lakes. Some, including Michigan, have considered using a bounty system to help eliminate the fish. How effective have these bounty systems been in the history of America’s attempt to control problem wildlife? And, would a similar program work in Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes?
The first bounties to be enacted in the United States were used primarily to protect livestock from animals such as wolves and coyotes. The very first known bounty was established in Massachusetts in 1630 to try to stop packs of wolves from attacking animals and people.
Between 1630 and 1840, European settlement of the United States spread west. Settlers to these areas began encountering more and different animal threats to their livestock, including bears, wolves, and mountain lions. Individual farmers would hunt these predators or set out traps and snares to catch them, but the federal government did not offer bounties at this time. Some individual states, like New Hampshire, did offer small bounties for some predators during this period, though. And by 1860, a bounty on coyotes had been set up in the rapidly growing Midwest and Western regions.
The first major federal bounty program began in 1915, when Congress appropriated $125,000 to assist with predator control and nuisance animals. This program used hired trappers to and hunters to seek out and destroy problem species. Many states also had their own bounty programs in place by this time, whereby anyone who could prove they had killed one of the targeted species could be paid for each animal they destroyed.
The success of bounty programs has been varied. They seem to work out better when the targeted species is a non-native, invasive one. When natural predators, such as wolves, are killed off in large numbers, this can have a negative impact on the environment. This happens when the number of prey animals grows out of control and begins to damage the natural environment.
However, states like Louisiana have seen success in their efforts to control the invasive, non-native nutria. A bounty program on nutria was established there in 1998, and it has reportedly reduced the damage caused by the animal to coastal wetlands. Louisiana received federal funding to test and establish a bounty program. The program allowed hunters to keep the meat and fur and turn in the tail as proof of the kill. Thus the annual program was part of the budget from the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act in 2002.
In 2014, Louisiana paid $5 a tail, for a total of $1.94 million, to 252 hunters, with just under half the hunters offering 800 tails or more. The $5 per tail bounty provided an economic stimulus for the coastal region, and provided year-round income hunting for the otherwise unemployed.
Based on these results, a Michigan bounty on Asian carp in the Great Lakes could work. Asian carp are not native to the area, and they are causing environmental damage by wreaking havoc on the local fish and ecosystem. Further support for this bounty comes from the fact that China has eliminated Asian carp in the wild by over-fishing them. Asian carp could be processed, frozen and exported to the markets where this meat is scarce and highly sought as a food source. As the threat from this species continues to threaten the multi-billion dollar fishing and tourism industries, it is clear that a bounty on Asian carp in the Great Lakes is a solution worth pursuing.
Images from Wikipedia Commons