Kevin Sprague, a conservation officer with the Ministry of Natural Resources, displays an Asian Carp that was seized at the Windsor/Detroit border. (Dan Janisse / The Windsor Star)
A trucking company and its driver have been heavily fined for twice attempting to bring live Asian carp into Ontario via the Ambassador Bridge.
On Thursday, a Canadian court fined Edmonton-based All The Way Trucking $70,000, and driver Yong-Sheng Zhang $5,000, for attempting to bring the invasive species into Canada from a fish farm in Arkansas in early 2012.
According to Conservation Officer Kevin Sprague, Zhang attempted to bring in thousands of pounds of big head and grass carp into Ontario in January and February 2012. According to Sprague, neither the company nor the driver were trying to illegally smuggle the fish into the country.
“You’re legally allowed to bring carp into Ontario as long as the fish are dead, but some of these weren’t,” said Sprague, who inspected the specialized fish truck on both occasions. “Some fish, like bass, are allowed to be brought in alive in water-filled compartments. But carp are packed in ice and are supposed to be dead, but in some cases the ice just slows down their metabolism.”
On one occasion, some of the grass carp showed signs of life while the big heads were dead. On the other occasion, some of the big heads were alive while the grass carp were dead.
“It’s not like the fish are flopping around,” Sprague said. “You really have to stare at them before you might notice the tail or a fin still quivering. At that point, you take a few of them out and put them in water. We did that on both inspections and on both occasions the fish perked up and began to swim around.”
Live Asian carp are prohibited because they reproduce rapidly and can weigh more than 50 pounds, eating up to 20 percent of their body weight in plankton each day. Because of their voracious appetite, native species can die off because of lack of food.
Popular in Asian cuisine, the fish have escaped from farms in the southern United States in the 1960s and have made their way into areas of the Mississippi and its tributaries. The fish have migrated their way north and if they enter the Great Lakes it is feared they could severely damage sport and commercial fishing in the lakes.
While the carp can grow to 50 or more pounds, the fish that were seized were in the 5 to 10 pound range, according to Sprague.
“In the January case, we seized the 6,800 pounds of grass carp and let the truck and driver take the big heads and travel on to their destination — in the Toronto area — because the fish were dead,” Sprague said. “In the February case, we seized the entire load and held it a day until all 4,500 pounds of big heads had died. We then let the truck and driver go on their way.”
The case went to court in June 2013 with the final decision coming in a few months later after a judge reviewed all the evidence. The fines were levied on Thursday.
“The truck company and the driver have 12 months to pay the fines,” Sprague said. “All the seized fish were forfeited to the crown.”
According to Sprague, Zhang is on disability and is no longer working as a truck driver.