Species Profile: Asian carp

Asian carp are big fish with big impacts, but they also show big promise as a target for invasivores.

The moniker “Asian carp” can be applied to many large-bodied Asian fish species, several of which have achieved notoriety as devastating invaders around the globe.  In recent years, the bighead carp Hypopthalmichthys nobilis and the silver carp H. molitrix have received considerable attention as populations have moved northward through the Mississippi River basin towards the Laurentian Great Lakes.  Much of that attention comes from their role in the development of environmental DNA detection as a surveillance tool, which we will cover in more detail later this week, but these species also have dramatic impacts on invaded systems and have served as a poster child in the invasivore movement.

The primary impact of these fish comes from their appetite- bighead and silver carp are voracious herbivores with the potential to outcompete native fish for food.  Many officials are concerned that if these fish make it into the Great Lakes, the nearly $7 billion a year sport and commercial fishing industries will suffer catastrophic losses.  Silver carp have also become a sensation on Youtube for their jumping abilities.  While videos of the flying fish, which jump when frightened by watercraft, can be entertaining, the jumping fish have been known to seriously injure passing boaters.

Bighead and silver carp are also a prime target of invasivores.  They recently appeared on the Food & Water Watch Smart Seafood Guide, and many professionals such as Chef Philippe Parola have dedicated time and effort to cooking and marketing Asian carp.  Several non-food uses for Asian carp have also emerged, including the production of fertilizer.

The many potential uses of Asian carp provide only a dull silver lining to the invasion, given the potentially devastating impacts that accompany their establishment.  Later this week, we’ll provide a closer look into the research and management efforts aimed at understanding and controlling the US invasion.

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