Minnesota Politician Thinks Asian Carp Name Is Offensive to Asians

Really? Why don’t we change every other invasive species named after places?

The bighead carp, one of several invasive species called Asian carp in the U.S.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
March 31, 2014, 10:41 a.m.

Asi­an carp aren’t just of­fend­ing Mid­west­ern wa­ter­ways. They’re of­fend­ing the polit­ic­ally cor­rect.

Ac­cord­ing to John Hoff­man, a Demo­crat­ic state sen­at­or from Min­nesota, the name “Asi­an carp” casts Asi­an cul­ture and people in a neg­at­ive light. It’s such a prob­lem, in fact, that he sponsored a bill to change the fish’s name to “in­vas­ive carp” in that state.

“Caucasi­ans brought them to Amer­ica,” he told Min­neapol­is’s Star Tribune last week. “Should we call them ‘Caucasi­an carp?’ They have names. Let’s call them what they are.”

The term Asi­an carp refers to sev­er­al de­struct­ive carp ori­gin­at­ing from South­east Asia, in­clud­ing black, big­head, grass, and sil­ver carp. Since the spe­cies’ in­tro­duc­tion to the U.S. in the 1970s, the fish have spread to dozens of states.

It’s not the name, however, that has of­fi­cials wor­ried. That might be the least of their con­cerns. If the Asi­an carp makes its way to the Great Lakes, the spe­cies could over­whelm the wa­ter­ways and des­troy the fish­ing in­dustry. The Army Corps of En­gin­eers, in a Janu­ary study, says it will cost $18.4 bil­lion to pre­vent Asi­an carp from en­ter­ing Lake Michigan from Chica­go-area wa­ter­ways.

But the truth is, these fish are called Asi­an carp be­cause the spe­cies comes from Asia. It’s simple, really.

It’s not un­com­mon for spe­cies to bear the name of their home con­tin­ent. Many plants, fish, and in­sects ac­quire the name of the re­gion from which they came. Con­sider oth­er in­vas­ive spe­cies with the pre­fix “Asi­an”:

The Asi­an long-horned beetle is an in­sect nat­ive to China, Ja­pan, and Korea that was ac­ci­dent­ally in­tro­duced to North Amer­ica. Its lar­vae tun­nels through wood to kill off thou­sands of trees. The Asi­an ti­ger mos­quito came to the U.S. in the 1980s. The Asi­an swamp eel has also taken over some Amer­ic­an wa­ter­ways. If the “Asi­an carp” name ought to change, these too might need to be changed.

Europe is also the name­sake for sev­er­al in­vas­ive spe­cies in the U.S. The European priv­et, the European green crab, and the European starling all threaten sev­er­al eco­sys­tems. Should people of European des­cent be of­fen­ded by the names of these in­vas­ive spe­cies?

And these names even go bey­ond con­tin­ents. The Burmese py­thon threatens wild­life in South Flor­ida. The Chinese mit­ten crab com­petes with nat­ive spe­cies in the Ches­apeake Bay in Mary­land and the Hud­son River in New York. There’s also the Rus­si­an knap­weed, Span­ish cane, Ja­pan­ese bar­berry, Aus­trali­an pine, Canada thistle, Brazili­an wa­ter­weed, New Zea­l­and mud snail, Cuban tree frog, and Ar­menia black­berry, among oth­er in­vas­ive spe­cies in the U.S. Do the names of these plants and an­im­als also re­flect poorly on the coun­tries from which they came?

This isn’t the first time the name of an in­vas­ive spe­cies has been called of­fens­ive. Re­mem­ber the Afric­an­ized hon­ey­bees from the 1990s? They were a new bread of ag­gress­ive bees, also known as “killer bees,” that in­vaded the U.S. from Mex­ico and threatened honey pro­duc­tion. Their venom wasn’t any more deadly than reg­u­lar European hon­ey­bees, but the swarms were de­scribed in the terms of a Hol­ly­wood hor­ror movie.

The name was cri­ti­cize by pro­gress­ive film­maker Mi­chael Moore in his movie Bowl­ing for Columbine. He draws a con­nec­tion between fear of the Afric­an bees and stig­mas as­so­ci­ated with Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans. “The one thing you can al­ways count on is white Amer­ica’s fear of the black man,” Moore nar­rates. But his sen­ti­ment was not widely shared and noth­ing happened with the name.

So, do the neg­at­ive ac­tions of these in­vas­ive spe­cies re­flect poorly on the re­gion from which they come, or the people of those areas? They shouldn’t. It’s like say­ing the count­less times Amer­ic­an bison have at­tacked people give all Amer­ic­ans a bad name.

Simply, these spe­cies are named after re­gions be­cause that’s where they come from. Those sci­ent­ists who named the spe­cies most likely had no ma­li­cious in­tent with the names.

The Asi­an carp is just a carp that came from Asia.

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