Asian Carp: Freshwater Species of the Week

Few fish can inspire as much horror as the Asian carp (well, except perhaps the dreaded candiru).

But except for a few well publicized collisions with leaping fish, the Asian carp is rarely dangerous to human beings. Instead, ecologists warn that the Asian carp can wreak havoc on aquatic food chains by vacuuming up plankton and damaging submerged vegetation.

Asian carp are officially listed as invasive species in the U.S., and they are widespread throughout the Mississippi River Basin. Only a few individuals have been found in the Great Lakes so far, and fisheries managers are drawing a line in the sand to keep it that way.

This week, the Obama administration unveiled the 2012 Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework, with an attached budget of $51.5 million, reports the Associated Press. Agents will be stepping up monitoring and efforts to catch the fish in rivers that connect to the Great Lakes.

Officials will also be testing out scent-based lures for the Asian carp, an acoustic water gun that is hoped to repel them, and improved electric barriers and surveillance at locks.

Including this current commitment, the U.S. government has spent $156.5 million on keeping bighead and silver Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, reports the AP. The fish are known to be living about 55 miles away from the lakes in the Illinois River. Environmentalists have called for sealing off connections between the water systems, but others have warned such measures could cause flooding and restrict shipping traffic.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is working on a broader study that aims to propose long-term solutions. Results are expected in 2015.

The term Asian carp can be confusing, because it is generally applied to a group of related species, including the bighead (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), silver (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), grass (Ctenopharyngodon idella), and black carp (Mylopharyngodon piceus). These fish can get quite large, up to 110 pounds, and they eat copious amounts of plankton. They are related to goldfish, koi, and the common carp (Cyprinus carpio). The latter has already been established as an invasive species across most of North America for more than a century.

Asian carp are more recent invaders, having worked their way through the Mississippi over the past few decades. They are thought to have escaped from aquaculture operations in the South in the 1970s, where they were imported to clean ponds.

Asian carp are generally considered better eating than common carp, and they are prized as food in Asia, where they have been farmed for more than 1,000 years. As part of efforts to control their spread in the U.S., a growing number of anglers and biologists are trying to convince people to harvest them.

Can the beefy fish be contained? Only time will tell. Invasive species represent one of several serious threats to freshwater ecosystems, in addition to dams, diversions, pollution, and other problems. Systems that are already stressed are less likely to fight off invaders than healthy communities. The Great Lakes have been under siege for a long time.

Find out exactly where Asian carp have been spotted on the United States Geological Survey’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species website.


Brian Clark Howard is a writer and editor with NationalGeographic.com. He was formerly an editor at The Daily Green and E/The Environmental Magazine and has contributed to many publications, including TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, MailOnline.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN and elsewhere. His latest book, with Kevin Shea, is Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.

  • Rich W.

    I strongly suggest everyone youtube the “Carp Hunters”. They are taking action against these foul beasts in an unorthodox, potentially controversial way. But it still looks like an awesome time.

  • Kurt. P

    Here is a good plan for Asian Carp control ….Start eating !!!
    So many people hungry…..Start eating this fish
    Eat it to extinction in the US (where it is not indigenous).

    I have never eaten one but I am sure (if you deal with the all the bones) it can make some good dishes.

  • Kurt. P

    This :

  • […] Asian Carp: Freshwater Species of the Week Few fish can inspire as much horror as the Asian carp (well, except perhaps the dreaded candiru). But except for a few well publicized collisions with leaping fish, the Asian carp is rarely dangerous to human beings. Instead, ecologists warn that the … Read more on National Geographic […]

  • […] water sampling to determine whether the destructive fish have established a foothold in the …Asian Carp: Freshwater Species of the WeekNational GeographicAsian Carp Listed As Invasive Species in U.S.French TribuneAPNewsBreak: Feds […]

  • Robert

    What about paying fisherman for each carp they catch and kill?

  • Kent

    With all the hunger and people that can not get a cheap healthy protein source , should we look at this fish as a answer to a prayer instead of a curse and harvest the hell out of them to control the population. The fresh water fish stocks in western Canada have been taxed b anglers to the point of mostly no keep limits . I would be happy to adapt in order to enjoy fishing for a species that can feed people . “when life give you lemons , make lemonade” when you are given Asian carp and you used to fish for cod, learn to fish and eat Asian carp.

  • Len van Bruggen

    “foul beasts”? That’s kind of fishist isn’t it? One naturists invasive species may be another’s natural migration.
    Just saying….
    In any event….I’ve read about these a number of times now but no one has said…. what do they taste like?

  • Philip Kukulski

    The positive tone of the article turns my stomach. Michiganders have been waiting decades for effective action against invasive species. $$$

  • Paul

    Harper, why do you have do go messing everything up?

  • chef Philippe Parola

    These Asian carps are of a great danger in our Southern States, I have and still are promoting the edibility of these fish. Fish translate to food and science should stop wasting millions of dollars….wants real answer that could create multitude of job and boost local economy. Ironically we import 90% of dirty, plluted fish for U.S. consumption:((
    Check out my website

  • W Brad Wheller

    Controversial way of taking action? Teach a man to fish, I allways say. http://cordofwoodracks.blogspot.com Thanks wberad

  • […] Last week, Asian carp received dubious honors as National Geographic’s Freshwater Species of the Week […]

  • glenda c.

    you call that fish a “foul beasts”!
    ..its edible/palatable…start eating Asian carp,its not poisonous but you must clean first the fish thoroughly before eating.

  • Rich

    To see the best video of the armada of dolphins, 2000 of them swimming with a whale watching boat off the coast of California go to

  • ron swanson

    are they comestible? if they could be harvested and sold the way other fish are, th eproblem of their invasion would be solved…

  • […] catfish farmers first imported four species of Asian carp in the 1970s. Known to be voracious eaters, they were set loose in catfish pens with the hope that […]

  • […] trout farmers initial alien four class &#959f Asian niggle &#1110n th&#1077 1970s. Known t&#959 b&#1077 starved eaters, th&#1077&#1091 w&#1077r&#1077 set lax […]

  • smt

    $51.5 million on 2012 asian carp fight…what a waste of money.times are hard with the economic depression and all maybe the government should channel the money into buiding a fish factory for the canning etc of the asian carp.it will benefit the US,fish factory will create jobs and earn alot of revenue from export……:)

  • Robert

    Why can’t local officials remove ALL fishing limitations for this carp, with no limit, and no fishing license necessary? Just make it open season on this carp and literally fish it into extinction. If they don’t want it for food, then use them for fertilizer.

  • MikeSmith-AMysticWeb

    One of the immediate problems which needs to be addressed is the fact that Asian Carp have entered Lake Michigan via the Chicago Canal.. This is continuing and will become a threat to all the Great Lakes if not stopped ASAP. The canal flow should be reversed or the locks closed before there is irreversible damage to the Great Lakes marine life. You would think the state of Illinois would take an interest in resolving this issue.

  • Eppie Billena

    That fish is very edible but why is it not available in abonance in the Asian fish market here in the USA for there are people who would love to eat that fish everyday 3x per meal. It is not dirty and it taste good.

  • […] Zebra mussel’s cousin, the quagga mussel, is also making its way east through the Erie Canal. The Asian carp probably isn’t far […]

  • Don

    I have had legal sterilized grass carp in a pond, 40 foot from my house and for the last 15 years and have watched them grab weeds, role and swim away with them. While vacationing at Kring point State Park in the 1000 Islands I watched through clear water the same thing for a week during the summer of 2011 taking place in the old swimming area. Although it was only 1 fish and may have even been a sterilized one released it sure made me wonder why they continue to take the chance with an electronic barrier.

  • kianoosh

    silver carp is a cleaner fish because this fish filters algae for example toxic blue-dark algae

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