I first wanted to write a book about Asian carp after completing a Masters degree in Geography from the University of Toronto in 2009. This was right as Asian carp were starting to become a household name. I was examining a mega water diversion project in North America in the 1960s for my thesis, a topic that sparked a lifelong fascination with enormous Earth-bending projects.
Years later I read about another such engineering plan that some were proposing for the Chicago area, an equally massive, long-term and financially daunting proposal to re-engineer the sub-continental divide between the Mississippi and Great Lakes watersheds. An invasive fish was threatening to use a river system the city had engineered more than a hundred years earlier to reach Lake Michigan, part of an entirely new watershed the fish could spread throughout.
As I began writing magazine features and news pieces about the public reaction to Asian carp, two things became clear: the story was broader and deeper than I ever thought; and that it wouldn’t be long before Asian carp, long thought of as an American ecological problem, would overtake the Great Lakes. As an environmental writer based in Toronto, maybe I was well positioned to tell this story at once so far and so near.
I travelled to Cleveland in January 2014 to witness the Army Corps of Engineers’ town hall on their $18 billion proposal to divide the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River basin. The angst from concerned residents to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp was palpable throughout the packed library auditorium. I heard dozens of stories in three minute increments, urging the Army Corps to stop them before it was too late. I was hooked.
Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian Carp Crisis is the result. Over the following months I began looking into the story and found it wasn’t Asian carp’s story but all of ours: the physiology of the fish and the pathway of their invasion, sure. But what about the multi-state lawsuits? The vulnerable ecology of infested rivers? The appointment of an Asian carp Czar? The hundreds of millions spent on research and control; the Redneck Fishing Derby; the near-hysteria over the threat they pose to the Great Lakes; the Canadian monitoring efforts.
This isn’t a book about fish, though they play a leading role: it’s a book about us and our reaction to the latest invasive species threatening to become a permanent fixture of the landscape. It’s a book about what winning and losing looks like in the uphill struggle to manage invasive species. And it’s a book about how a fish’s extraordinary jumping ability propelled it onto the nightly news and the nation’s Most Wanted list.
By tracing their spread throughout the Mississippi watershed from the earliest days of their introduction to the current battle over hydrologic separation, Overrun explores the economic, environmental, scientific, political and social impacts of Asian carp to better understand how they came to America and what we’re doing to stop them.
Join me as I travel through Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and more in search of Asian carp and the people whose private and professional lives have been forever changed.
Overrun will be published by ECW Press in Toronto in March 2019.