Planet Focus – Carpe Diem – Documentary Review and Interview with Scott Dobson

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This week’s story is on Planet In Focus, have you heard of this? I haven’t until it was brought my attention by my fellow blogger Sonya. This intrigued me because I am all for the environment, and I enjoy learning about underwater creatures.

Carpe Diem is a documentary about Asian carp fish that came to North America’s attention because 30 years ago, they were accidentally released into the Mississippi River. What has happened since? They are now closing in on Lake Michigan, and are only 100 kilometres away. So why is this bad? Because this fish is dangerous to the livelihood of the people and the environment around us. Scott touched upon tropic cascade, which you can read about here. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trophic_cascade)

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I got to sit down with independent Producer/Director Scott Dobson and pick his brains on why he is so passionate about this cause and film:

How did you get interested in doing a documentary on Asian carp?
My grandfather was am amateur filmmaker and he made some great movies, but he made a really good one. This was in the 60’s, so I kind of grew up surrounded by that. plus my father was sort of a hardcore amateur photographer, I grew up surrounded by photography, but one kind or another. And I think that i have always been interested in good stories and I guess one day I figured out you could find great stories in fiction but there are also great stories in reality and I thoguht, hey! I could make great documentaries as well, and meet some of these interesting people as well. Someone asked me last year, why do you still direct documentaries? It’s because I am not sick of meeting new people.
How did Asian carp turn into a documentary called Carpe Diem?
Carpe Diem was producted by Charlotte Engel. And Charlotte and I have known each other for a long time. It was Charlotte who wanted to do a documentary on Asian carpe. She mentioned it to me and I immediately thought it was a great topic. mainly because the little bit of research I had at that moment, the whole thing sounded so unbelievable. I sort of realized we are at the doorsteps of the great lakes. I said this is a really terrific idea. I liked it because the topic of asian carpe touches upon science, biology, history, sociology, anthropology. It touches upon all these areas, and very rarely do stories touch upon on so many different things. You can see that in the film. You see the hunters, the scientists, the people on the barges trying to make a living out of this.
One of my favourite things about this film is that literally within stones throw of this fish that nobody seems to want, are thousands of people who are in dire straits for food. You keep thinking to yourself why doesn’t everyone just run down the river and start grabbing these fish. We decided that there are some communities along the river that people are unemployed and people are fishing them along the Illinois River.
Why don’t people fish them?
As much as I hate to say it, there is an element of racism involved, and white people don’t like the fish. I think it’s also because it’s called “ASIAN” carp, it preys into people’s brains that it must be mysterious, deep and dark. In the United States, carp is considered garbage fish, because there are some members of the carp family that like to scrounge and eat everything. Even that type of carp tend to eat vegetations. They are not garbage fish, as some people are led to believe, in the case of the asian carp, the silver and the bighead, as you see in the film, but there are not actually garbage bottom feeders, they are incredibly power, filter food fish, incredibley well developed, like vaccum cleaners, they are the worst kind of fish you want. They eat the really good stuff, and wipe out everything there is.
Why are they invasive?
It’s interesting, in a sense , remember it’s the law of unintended consquences because those fish don’t come here on their own as invasive, we brought them here. So they just do what they do. It’s not like they are bad fish. As far as fish goes, they are amazing creatures, they are resourceful and resilient, and an incredible species, and as Duane says in the film.. “I wish they weren’t here”.
Because you are interested in Asian Carp, have you done other documentaries with biology backgrounds?
I have done docs in all sorts of topics. From the spiritual world of Elvis Presley to SPAM. Quite a few years ago, I did a documentary on oyster shucking. So I have done seafood stuff before. I do stuff on whatever topics that interest me, so I am not a specialist in any one area. I like people so it is the same story for me on a certain level.
How long did it take for you to start and finish the film?
1.5 years
Because of the Mississipi flooding, would it have affected the asian carp to spread?
Yes, that is one of the ways they / and the eggs spread. One of the things that they do is they build fences to separate the estuaries and the rivers etc. The carp is amazing because they can cross breed. It is an amazing ability to have because they hook up. That is how the asian carp got out. Through flooding and fish farms, and no-one ever thought that it would ever flood. They haven’t had floods in a long time.
The silver carp weigh up to 100lbs, can you imagine a 100lbs fish landing on your windshield when you are driving on the highway. Your window will break.
Where originally is the Asian carp from? How come we don’t hear anything from Asia?
The silver carp doesn’t jump in Asia. Non-one knows why. Someone has suggested that for a long, long time, the boat traffic that were on rivers in Asia, are small wooden vessels probably unmotorized. Then the fish came over here and all of a sudden everyone has an aluminium boat with a giant engine in the back, and it freaks them out. There are a lot of different theories, I do know that silver carp that they have a very highly developed phermone system. They are really rapidly fast at giving a scent of fear, fight or flight. The other silver carps are really sensitive to picking it up. For some reason, somebody thinks that trait of them are overdeveloped in N. America, if one gets spooked, they literally go bananas! It’s a giant panic.Where do they come from? Asian Carp comes from Eurasia, China, Siberia, East – Hungary – As you probably be aware, people eat them overseas. It’s interesting why China may not be aware is because the waterways and dam are so polluted.
How do we prevent Asian Carp from entering Canada?
Canada and US need to work together. One country is suffering from all the effects, while we are trying to prevent it. So far it hasn’t started yet. In Peoria Illinois, why can’t we harvest these fish but fishing them. Schaefers is shipping this all over the world to eat.
What is the key message of the film?
The key message of the film is that when humans move species around it can have end results beyond anything and anyone could imagine. Also that Asian carp are a real threat to waterways of Canada. Not just the great lakes. If they do establish in the great lakes, they could populate in almost every river in Canada which will have an incredible economic and social impact on the country. It has the potential to wipe out entire species from the waterways of Canada.
Are Asian carps a scary or dangerous threat?
While Asian carp are a menace to our environment that they end up inhabitating. From a scientifc view, they really are an amazing fish. They are survivors, breeders, filterers. It’s like every aspect of them have been designed to make them a dominant species. A species that outeat, outbreed, outswim all the other fishes. It’s amazing when you think these fish can live 25 years. If it’s a bad food year, they just wait it out, and the situation gets better. Boom, it gets better, and they eat again. They eat 20% of their body weight. That is how much food they go through. They are not inherently a bad fish. But one can’t help but admire what an awesome creature they are. No-one really wants them in their waterways, but when you study them and get to know them, once can’t help but be impressed.
How Asian carp affects the waterway or a town? How bad does it get?
In the US we saw a town that had been to some degree devastated by the asian carp invasion. A lot of folks down there, fishing, boating, water recreation, work world, culture and lifestyle, you see for example in Bath and Havana, ILL or even the bigger cities like Pioria, and you see these beautiful lakes with no boats out. And you don’t notice at first.. and then you go, wait a minute, where are the fishing boats? Where are the people having a great time on a hot day? Where are the people water skiing? You realize the infestation has wiped out all the fish, people who fish for recreation. The fish has made it unsafe on the water, so there is an economic and a social impact, and for a lot of the people who are fishing are very much part of the culture. People feel their way of life are under attack. They feel they can’t take their grandkids out to catch their first fish. It’s kind of scary when you think about it if Asian carp got into the great lakes here, spread through the water system, through the grand river, Lake Eerie, Lake of the woods, they can have the same kind of devastating effect.
How bad can the devastation be?
Asian carp can make recreational boating a nightmare. Not only do the silver carp jump out of the water, fly through the air, crashing into you, and potentially killing you, the fish panics. It defacates. The fish is also naturally covered in a clear slime. And that clear slime is for detecting sense. PLUS, the skin of the fish make it a bleeder. For example, if you take an Asian carp out of the water, and you are able to contain it, and give it a couple squeezes, it will bleed. If the fish doesn’t knock you down and hurt you but lands in your boat, your boat becomes full of blood, poo and slime. It’s a miserable awful experience. It absolutely ruins your boat, your clothes. Imagine if 3 or 4 of them land on your boat, imagine the kind of mess you have. And that’s why the carp hunter have all that netting on the boat. It’s not only to protect them, but it’s to protect their boat.
What happens if asian carp gets into the great lakes?
If Asian carp got into the great lakes, there already are Asian carp in the great lakes. But they are in very small numbers and it’s very hard for them to find each other and build a colony. If enough carp find their way into the great lakes over time, they will start to find each other, and they like to hang out with each other. Their little groupings will get bigger and bigger. Scientists call this Propagule pressure. When you reach that moment of having propagule pressure, and when you get to that point, it’s probably impossible to stop it or turn it around. It is probably too late.
Can this be stopped in the big picture?
You will see in the film there are a lot of ideas to physically prevent them into getting the Great Lakes. People are working on chemical ways to corral them, kill them or keep them out of breeding ground. The end of the day, all these things will only accomplish one thing, it will stop them momentarily stop them, and slow them down in reducing their population numbers. My feeling based on everything that I have seen is that you cannot stop them, and at the end of the day for people in the US for where the infestations are, are the tools from a toolbox using those to reduce the numbers. That could also be expanding a fishery. In Canada, detection is numero uno, and if you can figure out where they are coming in, they will eventually be able to deplpy these techniques, chemicals in specific locations to try and stop a colony from beginning.
We are just going to have to learn to live with them. The longer we can keep them out of the Great Lakes, the better. One scary thing is, they are bioogically a cold water fish. Coming to Canada, they are they going to like it even more.
In less than a hundred years, asian carp will take over the whole entire continent of North America. Maybe the Pacific coast will be okay, but doesn’t mean a bird can’t take it.
You can check out the film at Planet In Focus, here. It’s worth a watch, and it’s worth knowing what is just south of the border, and so close to us. You can also watch it this Saturday, November 23, 1:30 pm at the AGO’s Jackman Hall, and meet Scott Dobson.
AC in wild 2
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Ace is a freelance graphic designer who was born in Toronto, grew up in Hong Kong, and lived in Ottawa and Vancouver. She is attracted and addicted to adventures like rock climbing, scuba-diving and anything culturally and visually interesting. Ace is still looking for the perfect cup of coffee in the city to satiate her.

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