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Environment and History

Bio-Invasions and Bio-Fixes: Mysis Shrimp Introductions in the Twentieth Century

Leif Fredrickson

Environment and History 23 (2017): 285-320. doi: 10.3197/096734017X14900292921789

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Between 1949 and the 1980s, fisheries managers transplanted the tiny Mysis relicta shrimp into hundreds of lakes and reservoirs in North America and Europe. They hoped to create self-sustaining food for fish. However, most of these experiments failed spectacularly, destroying the fisheries they were intended to bolster. The mysid introductions can be viewed as a 'biological fix', or 'bio-fix', akin to technological fixes. Fixes are solutions to complex social or environmental problems, but the solutions are conceived in an unsystematic and partial way. This makes the solutions appear cheaper and easier than they are and can result in failure and unintended consequences. The mysid introductions illustrate the bio-fix concept. Biological solutions to fisheries problems arose because technological solutions (fertilisation, hatcheries) were impractical or inadequate. Self-reproducing organisms appeared to solve those problems. Changing technology, growing ecological knowledge and the apparently successful introduction of mysids in several lakes made mysid introductions seem cheap, easy and enormously beneficial. But the fervour for mysids masked the many uncertainties and contradictions in knowledge about mysids and their role in ecosystems. Mysids were often not edible by the fish they were intended for. More troublingly, they competed for food with those fish, ultimately causing the collapse of fisheries. Fisheries managers subsequently tried to revive, reassess or reinvigorate large technological solutions, such as dams and fertilisation, to save fisheries, but this was not usually successful.

KEYWORDS: Invasive species, bio-invasions, techno-fix, bio-fix, fisheries, lakes, salmon, mysis, mysid, opossum shrimp

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