Are Asian carp really as bad as conservationists claim?
Yes, they are. And they’re ugly.
Asian carp is a common name for several species of carp, but when you start talking invasive species, you’re mainly talking about four: black, bighead, silver and grass carp. Like many disasters, fisheries in the US can only shake their head in humility at the watery wildfire of Asian carp, since fisheries originally introduced the species to southern catfish farms in the 1970s. Oh, if we only knew then what we know now…
Without delving into a mire of aquaculture and ichthyology, here’s a quick explanation of the Asian carp’s nuisance status.
Big Fish CAN Jump
Some fish respond to surface noise and boaters by quickly darting away or remaining motionless. Asian carp (primarily the silver carp) respond to danger by leaping into the air, sometimes as high as ten feet. If a sandwich-sized perch or bluegill did that, it would only be a fishy eccentricity. When all forty to one hundred pounds (!!!) of Asian carp leap into the air in front of passing boats, bones get broken (Warning: the language in the video clip might be offensive, but you’d swear too if a big ol’ fish just slapped your face).
Leaping asian carp have caused thousands of injuries, including broken noses and concussions, in the last two decades. Some organizations have turned carp-jumping behavior into a satirical sport, like the Peoria Carp Hunters. All kidding aside, that jumping ability also allows the Asian carp to bypass manmade barriers like dams and locks, even the multi-million dollar gate constructed by the US Army Corp of Engineers to prevent the carp’s invasion of the Chicago River.
Masters of Baby Making, Eating
Many freshwater fish species produce thousands or tens of thousands of eggs when spawning. Asian carp lay hundreds of thousands of eggs. Many other animals thrive on these eggs, eating them like discount caviar, but a hundred thousand of anything is bound to leave stragglers. And they do.
Additionally, these fish also excel at eating, one of the reasons fisheries imported them in the 1970s. They provide a quick and easy solution for filtering water choked with algae and plankton, but such a plentiful food source means the numbers keep growing and growing.
A very popular food fish in Asia, the carp’s place on American tables has diminished greatly in the last century. One proposed strategy for curtailing the species’ reproduction is endorsing it as a food fish (it pretty much tastes like every other kind of white fish). Food fish means profit, and profit means pursuit. More fishers will actively chase down the fish if it’s worth some money, since an outright bounty isn’t economically feasible.
What Can Hoosiers Do?
Not much, yet. Don’t use carp as bait. Wash the bottom of your boat between sites. Kill ‘em if you see ‘em… That’s about it. Until the Department of Agriculture, US Army Corp of Engineers and regional/state governments solidify a united strategy against the Asian carp invasion, there’s not much Hoosiers can do, other than not making it worse. Right now, strained budgets and politics have slowed containment strategies.
But haven’t slowed the Asian carp.
Man, that’s an ugly fish.