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The invaders among us – stink bugs, king crabs, Nile perch and coronavirus

TRAVEL ESSAY / In our time of catastrophic extinction of species, you may risk overlooking the catastrophic spread of some species. As we experienced on our journey with the four-wheeled home with the beetle Halyomorpha halys – or what about the king crab in Norway?

After a year and a half of covid plague, planning has become a new type of headache. It does not make it easier that invisible, infamous enemies always have to be included in the calculation. Be prepared. Consider the scenarios. For example this:

You want to organize shipping of car from Vancouver in Canada, to Sydney in Australia. Equipping yourself with visas and various health certificates is a trifle against certifying the vehicle. The first step is to fight through all the form pages. It soon becomes clear that the beetle Halyomorpha halysis the bottleneck. This stinking insect is a hiker and an agricultural plague. One fine day somewhere in Asia it slipped into somebody's luggage and has since invaded the planet. In America, it supplied itself with apples worth 38 million dollars, and in 2010 news reached the world that some fruit farmers had lost 90 percent of their crop.

photo: Ranveig Eckhoff

Now you are on your way from a beetle-infected country to a currently stink bug-free continent. Biosafety requires the strictest precautions. Anyone who ignores this risks being left on the quay in Sydney without a vehicle. Get ready to have your car chemically cleaned, a mandatory exercise both before and after the journey across the sea. Look for a shipping agent in Vancouver who can handle the case. This is likely to fail. In Los Angeles, on the other hand, you're in luck. Throw the plane tickets in the trash and book new ones, departing LA. There will be major delays, as coordination of the date of chemical purification and the date of departure puts sticks in the wheels.

Brace yourself for many hotel days and no cheap tickets. But finally, the car is on the waves – for over two months. You spend the wait in Australia on a rental car trip. When your own vehicle finally gets solid ground under its wheels, it is time to get a date for cleaning again. It takes a week. But no, that's not the end of it either. The Australian Department of Agriculture must test the results. They obviously have a lot of other things to do. Another hotel week. Soon you know Sydney in and out, a great city. After an official from the Department of Agriculture – thanks to a reminder from someone who knows someone – finally finds time to take a quick look at the car, you can eventually roll up your sleeves and move everything that had been thoroughly plastic-packed and recalibrated, back to its permanent place in the four-wheel drive home. Time to take a seat, fasten the seat belts and give gas.

photo: Ranveig Eckhoff

The king crab

This scenario is autobiographical. With subsequent reflections. What a lot of havoc a small beetle may cause! But wait – it does not end here. In times of catastrophic extinction of species, there is a risk of overlooking the catastrophic distribution of species. Until you quickly realize that it is all closely interwoven. Invasive species have disrupted ecosystems across the globe, with serious consequences for nature, the economy and human livelihoods.

The female crab lays approx. 165 000 eggs annually.

We do not have to go far to find intruders. In Norway, for example, we have a creature that has unwittingly settled within our territories and marches purposefully along the Norwegian coast – the king crab. It originates in the Pacific Ocean. Russian researchers set it out in the Murmansk Fjord in the 1960s to establish a new fishing resource. We are talking about a robust heavy-weight of up to 8 kilos that travels long distances and is known to eat "everything that moves", including its own offspring. It quickly found its way to Norwegian waters, where it has multiplied unchecked, with significant effects on benthic ecosystems, according to researchers, who determine that even small specimens of less than 800 grams eat enormous amounts of benthic organisms every day.

photo: Ranveig Eckhoff

The dilemmas arose quickly. For poor fishermen in Finnmark, the glutton provided a welcome extra income, at the same time giving rise to a wide range of issues: How to deal with the country's obligations to eradicate invasive species (as formulated in the International Convention on Biological Diversity); how to stimulate quota fishing east of the North Cape and at the same time open up for "free fishing" (attempts to exterminate the species) west and south of the North Cape. Attempts to eradicate the king crab
- if anyone should be genuinely interested in it – dare otherwise be useless. The female crab lays approx. 165 000 eggs annually, can live for twenty years, and it has hardly encountered any barbed wire fence on the seabed. Invasive species tend to walk and walk, no matter what.

The king crab is an indisputable and precious winner. It is a coveted delicacy, and seventy percent of the Norwegian catch is sold live to large markets in Asia, for many hundreds of kroner a kilo. Not surprisingly, the profits also attract criminals. In 2019, Økokrim (the Norwegian police responsible for financial crime) uncovered a network that has stolen and sold king crab for many millions of kroner.

A further industry also showed up quickly – fishing tourism. Anyone who wants to can get to know the swimming golden calf by visiting Mehamn in Finnmark. Vidar «Viking» Karlstad, representative of Nordicsafari, takes people out at sea here. He has expressed concern about the animal's distribution and possible consequences for both ecology and the fishing industry, but otherwise takes a practical position: "Now that the crab is here, we can at least enjoy its good sides – and good taste."

photo: Ranveig Eckhoff

After many decades have passed since this development began, it may seem as if the theme has landed on comfortable Norwegian, neutral ground. Questions about quota-regulated catches were summed up by the Minister of Fisheries and Seafood Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen as of December 2020 as follows: «The king crab is an introduced species that affects the seabed. […] Expanding the quota-regulated area for king crab can have major consequences for biodiversity. […] This will entail a risk to the ecosystem, of which we currently do not have enough knowledge to investigate. […] Through the current administration, we fulfill Norway's obligations under international law to limit the spread of alien species, while at the same time helping to maintain a profitable industry. "

Anyone – put the pieces together.

Lake Victoria in Africa

To take a closer look at a larger context, we can go to a living environment that is shared by three countries – Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Lake Victoria is Africas largest lake, with an area of ​​68 km². In 800, a fisherman from a village in Uganda pulled something he had never seen before into his canoe. There was a mputa, en Nile perch. This is a predatory fish that can grow up to two meters long and weigh 200 kg. How did it end up in the water where it had never been seen before? In colonial Uganda, some fisheries bureaucrats resented the fact that this gigantic lake mainly contained tiny fish – cichlids – of the type haplochromis. There was no money in this "non-fish", while the nile perch invited to sport fishing and was attractive on the dining table. Thus began the domino effect.

The export-oriented fishing industry almost wiped out the traditional fishing.

In a short time, the Nile perch cleared the table and eradicated most of the ecologically important haplochromisspecies. The ecosystem was disrupted. The clarity of the water was reduced (eutrophication), which led to a further reduction in species diversity. The expansion of the Nile perch further changed the entire arena of fisheries and socio-economic realities. A local industry that until the 1980s was based on original fish species, had been replaced by an export-oriented fishing industry that virtually wiped out the traditional fishing and also made fish food way too expensive for the locals.

The result we observe by visiting the small Kenyan fishing village of Mbita, arriving by moped taxi. A few small boats set off from the beach, followed by hopeful herons. The trips may be long. Coastal fish have been scarce, so it is necessary to seek the catch further and further out at sea. The boats return with a sadly meager catch, if they return at all. Those who go out on night fishing must accept the dangers.

photo: Ranveig Eckhoff

The one who has probably presented the strongest – and probably the most polemical – image of misery is the Austrian Hubert Soups. The documentary Darwin's nightmare from 2005 (see moderntimes.review) shows us the reversal picture of globalization, there Lake Victorias white perch is stripped, cleaned and frozen for export to rich countries, while the locals have to make do with rotting fish carcasses. Homeless children run around, fight over leftover food and get high on the smoke from molten plastic, used in the containers for packaged fish. All the industrialized fish factories along the sea have attracted labor from far and near, without an orderly society having emerged, with schools and hospitals. Instead, bars, prostitution and AIDS abound. Airplanes carry the fish away, but what do they bring in? This is not clearly answered, but a Russian pilot mumbles something about "equipment". Drinks more than suggest that the planes import weapons, for use in the endless wars the continent struggles with.

It is here that Darwin's nightmare rises to a juicy accusation and a metaphor for the rich world's repetitive, cynical exploitation of man and nature. What Sauper's film may have lost in relevance over the years, it takes back in the power of the message. And here it is also that the threads are tied together. Invasive species – stink bugs, king crabr, nilabbor, coronavirus, whatever their names are – are about as easily displaced, if not eliminated, as Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Environmental degradation

Thus, we have taken another step deeper into the cause / effect context: the human being as intruder, and the only one who can be accused of being so, because we know what we are doing. We have invaded and wiped out natural habitats across the globe. We use our unique brain against ourselves.

One million species are on the verge of extinction.

17 researchers, among them professor Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University and author of The population bomb, has come up with a recent report concluding that the planet is in a far worse condition than most – even scientists – have been aware of. It is estimated that one million species are on the verge of extinction. They warn that climate-controlled mass migration, more pandemics and conflicts over natural resources are inevitable unless we act immediately. This will have to mean changes in global capitalism, education and equality. They offer a lot of advice, including finally shelving the idea of ​​continuous economic growth, phasing out environmentally harmful agriculture and no longer using fossil fuels. For Norway, this would mean stopping exporting the problems by making money from other countries' use of oil and gas, not to mention new extraction in their own territory. The Ehrlich group points out in a Guardian interview that environmental degradation is infinitely more threatening to civilization than trumpism or covid-19.

What shall we do? What can each one of us do? As representatives of the key species Homo sapiens, we are all part of both the problem and the solution. No, the journeys will not cease, as little as stink bugs and viruses. Think carefully about how you move in the systems our species belongs to and depends on.

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Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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