Asian carp have quickly become one of the most invasive and destructive species in the United States today.
A variety of different invasive fish species have made their ways into places over the years that are destroying the balance of ecosystems the world over. Some were introduced by accident, while others on purpose without the knowledge of how well the species would do in its new environment. No species has been more destructive than Asian carp.
Carp introduced into the waters of the United States from Southeast Asia all fall under the Asian carp name. This includes all silver, bighead, grass, and black carp species. They are all incredibly destructive fish to ecosystems nation wide, and continue to spread across the U.S. at a very rapid rate.
Asian carp are all filter feeders that are capable of growing well over 100 pounds. They consume 20 percent of their body weight in plankton per day, which are the life force of most aquatic food chains. Once plankton populations begin to drop, the smaller fish that feed on them begin to die as well, leaving the larger fish who feed on them to suffer, and so on until entire populations of native species begin to vanish or dramatically decline.
Carp were originally imported to the U.S. in the 1970s as a cheap way to help filter pond water on fish farms in Arkansas. When massive rains that caused flash flooding hit parts of Arkansas they were able to escape their ponds and make their way into rivers and lakes.
By 1975 the Asian carp had established themselves in the wild and began reproducing. They are capable of laying close to 500,000 eggs each spawning season. With close to no natural predators, almost all of these eggs hatch which adds to the prolific population.
As of today, bighead carp have invaded 23 states and silver carp have been found in 17 states. They make up 97 percent of biomass in the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.
As you can see from the graphic above, carp are quickly moving north, as well as beginning to make their way towards the west. If they are not stopped soon they could infect most of the country and destroy ecosystems everywhere.
Fish and Wildlife departments the entire country over have begun large-scale wars against the spread of Asian carp into new areas, as well as try to prevent their numbers from growing any further. Unfortunately it is proving to be a uphill battle that officials are losing ground on every year.
In 2011 the Stop Carp Coalition was formed as a way for multiple Fish and Wildlife Departments across the country to gather ideas to help prevent the carp spreading further than they already have. They have enacted a few precautions at the moment that are helping, but are not a permanent solution. They have a few other ideas they are currently researching into that will completely stop carp in their tracks. Yet, the long-term effects of the plans on current native species are unknown.
Officials have hired commercial fisherman to hunt the rivers to catch a multitude of Asian carp and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have now installed three electric barriers to deter them in Chicago waterways. Numerous laws have been enacted to prevent fishermen who accidentally catch them from releasing them back.
As of now, officials’ biggest fear is they will reach and establish populations in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes would be a haven for the fish with plenty of plankton and numerous breeding grounds.
The only sure way of stopping carp from entering the lakes is with hydrologic separation (see example below). This not only stops the Asian carp from migrating any further, but also has a host of benefits for the areas in which they are built. The benefits include improved water quality and wildlife habitat, creates more jobs, improves tourism, adds new recreational areas, and more.
The Army Corps of Engineers is currently doing a five-year study on the matter. Many fear it will be too late by then and the carp will have already spread to the Great Lakes and many other areas.
Fish and Wildlife Departments are asking for anglers help to do their part to prevent the Asian carp from spreading. If you catch one of these carp they are asking that you do not release them. Call your local wildlife officials immediately and report it. The same goes for it you spot them in any areas as well.
For more information on how you can help visit StopCarp.Org/TakeActionNow.