One of the last things I ever expect to see in any made-for-television documentary is a man hauling off and cold cocking a fish in the face, but it should also probably go without saying that such a moment would really be a highlight of anything that would include it. And judging by the fish being profiled in the 53rd season opener of CBC’s The Nature of Things (airing Thursday, October 3rd at 8:00pm), that damned fish really had it coming.
In the humorous and fascinating Carpe Diem: A Fishy Tale, David Suzuki narrates this look a rare kind of conservation effort that requires a certain species of aquatic pest be cut off from migrating or reproducing at intensely prolific rates. After being illegally introduced to the Mississippi watersheds by wrongheaded entrepreneurs to help protect and clean their fish ponds, two particularly aggressive species of Asian Carp have escaped and begun spawning at an alarming rate. These fish are hassles for two major reasons: First, they are so scared of anything that the slightest noise from a nearby swimmer or boat will cause them to leap en masse into the air haphazardly. Second, they are prolific plankton and algae eaters capable of eating 20% of their own body weight in a given day, which creates murky waters and less than ideal conditions for local plants and other fish who need to actually see where they are going at all times.
These are fish that are too bony (and often dirty) to eat, no other predators really want to eat them, they’re a hazard by sea AND air, can have decades long life spans, and they can produce offspring in the millions… and they’re headed for the Great Lakes via the Chicago canal, a potentially deadly blow to the region’s ecosystem.
For a show that’s usually all about letting most creatures live and let live, there’s something undeniably horrific at how these really otherwise innocuous and (aside from the flying thing) harmless fish can bring down a whole ecosystem. It’s too late for the show to function as a morality tale, but the solution methods are incredibly varied, and all of them have a bit of a ticking clock on them before the fish reach their final destinations, and they all have their drawbacks.
There are scientific solutions – electroshocking the canals and knocking the fish out, a pill that would only affect Carp and nothing else – but neither would likely work on younger fish. There’s a geographical solution – blocking off the canal and forcing everything to literally be lifted over the new blockage – but it would devastate the shipping industry. Then, there are rallies in small towns where people go on redneck rampages in boats and catch dumpster bins full of the fish (where the guy punches the fish into oblivion), and even one enterprising dude who suits up and turns catching these fish into water-based bowhunting expeditions. The downsides to these approaches should be obvious – with the former solution looking like the tail end of a zombie hunt – but they truly underline just how prevalent and profoundly annoying these fish are.
Carpe Diem is a fun and, more importantly, informative hour of television and a great way to kick off one of Canada’s greatest TV institutions. And did I mention you’ll also see a man dressed in football gear waterskiiing and trying to hit fish out of the air with a tennis racquet? It sounds cruel, but by that point the viewer knows just how dangerous these fish are and it doesn’t really seem like that awful of an idea.