Everything You Need to Know about the Asian Carp Crisis

grass carp swimming

You’ve probably seen videos of the massive silver fish jumping out of the water as a boat and its passengers make their way down a river. It’s pretty incredible and entertaining at first, but when you realize what this means for our lakes and rivers, it’s not good.

The Asian carp infestation is threatening our fisheries, pushing out the natural species that we know and love. Here is everything you need to know about this crisis and what we can do to limit the impact of these invasive fish.

What are Asian Carp?

Silver Carp on steel table
Image by David L. Shultz – Nicholls State University

Originally introduced to the U.S. in the ’60s and ’70s, Asian carp were brought in to help with parasites, algae, and weeds in aquatic farming operations. They, unfortunately, were able to escape to natural waters during flooding at some point and began to breed.

The name ‘Asian carp’ does not refer to a single species, but actually four different kinds of invasive carp: bighead carp, silver carp, black carp, and grass carp. These species are large, with some bighead carp reaching five feet in length and weighing in excess of 90 pounds.

What Is the Problem?

Asian carp jumping out of river
Image from Illinois Prairie Research Institute

Bighead and silver carp are filter feeders, meaning they catch and eat plankton they collect as they swim, and they are extremely efficient in doing so. Plankton is a critical food source for natural baitfish and as the carp continue to over-consume, natural fish populations will decrease and disperse.

Grass carp consume massive quantities of aquatic vegetation, destroying natural habitat for many species including fish, turtles, frogs and many more.

Black carp are bottom feeders that seek out natural snails and mussels as a food source. As filters and cleaners of the aquatic environment that supply important nutrients throughout the water column, the loss of mussels and snails have a major negative impact on the ecosystem.

Beyond ecosystem damage, silver carp are particularly dangerous to humans due to their tendency to leap out of the water in response to vibration. Silver carp can reach weights in excess of 60 pounds and quite a few boaters have been injured by the aerial acrobatics of this invasive fish.

Asian carp are now are well established in the southern 65% of the Mississippi River from Illinois down to its outlet in Louisiana. This is particularly concerning because there are many smaller rivers and streams that feed into the Mississippi so the potential impact of the Asian carp infestation is massive (some spread has already begun).

Even the Great Lakes are threatened. Asian carp have been found just over 20 miles from the entrance to Lake Michigan. The Great Lakes are one of our most important freshwater ecosystems and the potential for absolute devastation by Asian carp species is all too real.

What Is Being Done About it?

silver carp jumping in fox river
Image by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Efforts by local governments and the National Fish and Wildlife Service to control the spread of Asian carp are already underway. One effective tool has been the use of barriers that use a combination of air bubbles, sound, and electricity to keep the fish out.

Scientists at the University of Minnesota (and elsewhere) are also working on new approaches to reduce the Asian carp population including developing viruses that would specifically attack these species, special poisoned foods, and attractants that could draw these carp into areas where they could be rounded up and removed.

What Can We do About it?

Bow hunting in the middle of the amazon rain forest in Brazil.
Image by Christopher Moswitzer from Getty

As a recreational boater and fisherman/fisherwoman, there are also crucial steps you can take in your day-to-day routine on the water to help prevent the spread of Asian carp.

  1. Never transfer fish from one body of water to another.
  2. Dispose of bait in the trash, not in the water.
  3. After you take your boat out, rinse it down and drain any residual water.
  4. If traveling on a river, reduce lock usage to a minimum to prevent opportunities for carp to swim upriver.
  5. Consider bow fishing for Asian carp as a fun way to help reduce to population.

Is your area affected by the Asian carp infestation? Are you worried about this issue coming to your area? Please share your thoughts and comments below.


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