They are the aliens invading our nation: feeding off natives, destroying homelands and consuming everything in their path. Spreading like wildfire throughout the country, their numbers are increasing rapidly, as they seek farther and farther reaches.
Equipped with a net, a fishing boat and extensive knowledge, a man and his team are looking to apprehend these invaders.
The attackers: the invasive Asian carp species.
The man: Duane Chapman.
Chapman is not only a rugged, walking encyclopedia of fish facts, but he also has the advantage in this fight of knowing exactly where his enemy comes from and how the invasion began:
He was one of the people who brought in the invaders.
Now said to be at “the forefront” of the management of the Asian carp problem, Research Fish Biologist Duane Chapman of the Columbia Environmental Research Center has dedicated his life to this issue: co-authoring two books and dozens of publications about the carp while also creating cook books on frying these fish. His personal life reflects his job: a passion for fishing, fresh food and an insatiable appetite for his enemy.
And he’s been there since the start.
“In the late ’70s, I was one of the first people to drive the carp up to Iowa,” Chapman said. “It was the second load ever brought into the US.”
Working as a biologist, Chapman helped drive a truckload of grass carp up to Iowa, completely unaware that he was bringing his enemy to his home-turf.
Chapman’s rise to carp-stardom began in the ’80s as a graduate student at the University of Wyoming where he wrote a term paper and his first publication on the exact species he helped bring. But it wasn’t until 2002 when Chapman would finally find himself in the ring with the carp again, this time with more weapons than before.
When the Columbia Environmental Research Center, a division of the U.S. Geological Survey stationed in Columbia, Mo., allowed him to start and develop an Asian carp research project, he saw it as his true calling. Chapman saw his life evolve and his scenery change, but he cites one constant in his life: fish. His interest in them throughout his childhood, college, and career has not faltered.
“I’ve always been interested in this stuff. That’s why I’m here now,” said Chapman, glancing around his office at his various plaques, awards and fish photographs.
As a research fish biologist at the CERC, Chapman and his team established a precedence of developing new ways to combat the fight against Asian carp, with their new discovery in spawning habits.
“Duane is a walking encyclopedia of fish facts,” Fish Biologist Karl Anderson said. “It’s incredible.”
“I know a lot more about fish anatomy than your average Joe,” Chapman joked.
It was as a child that Chapman became intrigued with the mystery of the outdoors and society’s growing impact on it. And like many dedicated professionals, Chapman seemed to always bring his work home with him, and even onto the table for dinner.
Growing up with an abundance of fresh meat and fish always on the menu, Chapman not only developed a passion for the wild, but also an appetite.
“I’ve eaten McDonalds a few times,” Chapman said. “I remember when the first McDonalds opened up in the South, we drove an hour and a half to get some and I thought, ‘we drove all this way for this?’” he laughed, shaking his head.
Chapman recalls the meal to be wholly unsatisfying and was never interested food of the sort. Instead, he and his family prefer fresh food, either from the garden, farmers market or local hunters.
“I’m known as a wild cook,” smiled Chapman. “I eat everything and I like wild foods.”
On the door of his office hangs a flag branding his sworn enemy, the carp, as well as a recipe for “Fajitas Carpitas,” one that Chapman created himself for consuming those fish.
His “From the Kitchen of Duane Chapman, USGS Fish Biologist” combines his career of eliminating the invasive species with his passion for wild cooking. The recipe book includes a dozen ways to cook up Asian carp that are innovative and appetizing.
“It’s my shot at playing Julia Child,” jokes Chapman.
The Asian carp cookbook isn’t the only thing Chapman authored; in 2007, he and various other biologists completed their book “Bigheaded Carps: A Biological Synopsis and Environmental Risk Assessment.”
“The book took longer to complete than I hoped,” he admits, stoking its spine.
Chapman’s wife’s cancer and his own health issues delayed the completion of the book, to his dismay. But the publication of his work, Chapman says, is the biggest accomplishment of his career.
“In some ways, [my book] is an outlet,” said Chapman.
Science, in his opinion, is meant to be shared. The point of generating experiments and gathering information is to inform the public of the findings; Chapman sees his book as a way of showing to the world his life’s work.
When Chapman started in the CERC, he was a just a fish biologist with a passion for the wild. But he now finds himself with different responsibilities: more executive and less science.
“I love doing science,” Chapman said. “I wish I had more time for it.”
Chapman traded in his fishing net for a calculator and is now responsible for managing finances and solving funding issues. Though he now works more on the administrative side of the fight, Chapman sees his work and the work of his co-workers as real strides to solving this invasion.
The carp saga began when the fish were brought in for catfish farmers. Farmers would use the Asian carp to clean algae from their ponds; certain types of algae made the catfish unappetizing and thus unable to sell. The plan was to bring in the Asian carp, have them eat the algae and in return, sell the carp for food.
“We found out pretty quick that you can’t sell them for food,” Chapman recalls.
While it was a hard sell to North Americans, the Asian community would purchase them live from farmers in the late 70s. Chapman believes that it is during this time that the Asian carp found their way into the waterways and the invasion began.
“People just weren’t careful,” said Chapman.
Before the silver carp, or “the jumpers” as they’re called, were ever introduced into Iowa, Chapman recalls catching a few while fishing with friends. It was then he knew something had gone wrong.
Chapman has the advantage of seeing the idea of introducing the carp go from profitable to disastrous. He recalls the early risk assessment, done by a biologist in the early 70s, predicted the invasion. Yet his warning went ignored.
“Sometimes,” Chapman said with a shake of his head, “when people have invested interest they tend to overlook the downsides.”
While Chapman himself was a part of the group overlooking the downsides, he has been trying to make up for it in tenfold, dedicating his career to eradicating the aliens
“I really want to have an impact on the world,” Chapman said. “I think I can do that with the Asian carp.”