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Paper presented at the 2008 American Society for Environmental History meeting in Boise, Idaho, March 7, 2008. Copyright (c) David Nesheim.


In an effort to increase the food supply, the U.S. Fish Commission began shipping carp hatchlings in 1877 and within five years the number of requests grew to seven thousand. By 1896 the stocking program was discontinued when any further introductions were deemed unnecessary. It did not take long for the fish to overspread the continent, moving from the ranks of coveted transplant to invasive menace by the 1920s. From the first application in 1934, an active campaign of carp poisoning was underway in lakes and stream across the country by the 1950s. In 1958, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brought the poison campaign against carp to Lake Andes, a large lake in south-central South Dakota on the Yankton Sioux Reservation. Over the course of the twentieth century, the lake has been home to several bass fishing resorts, a state fish hatchery, and a federal wildlife refuge. The story of Lake Andes cannot be told without including carp. And a full retelling requires recognition of the ways that carp forced humans to consider and frequently reconsider their priorities. Private citizens, local civic organizations and government, state and federal bureaucrats, along with biologists and the scientific community, all responded to the presence of carp. The networks extending from their profusion in streams, rivers and lakes across America remain connected by the action of fish. Agency works as well as any other term to define that phenomenon. So, yes, carp have agency.

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