Asian Carp – A Plague on the Fishery
Videos of fish, flying through the air and jumping into boats, have made many Americans keenly aware of the Asian carp. The number one issue with the invasive species among the general public is thought to be one of personal safety. Given the huge size these fish can grow to, they provide a pretty good wallop if a boater is hit by one.
Catfish anglers in particular are also familiar with Asian carp. These anglers fish in the same waters were the invasive species is abundant and they know the problems well. They stretch way beyond the general public’s worry about safety.
Lyle Stokes (Blackhorse Custom Rods and Catfish Weekly) identifies how they got here. “Asian carp were brought to the US to see if they could help keep algae out of private ponds and lakes,” reported Stokes. “While the project was in the research period, a hurricane came and flooded the holding tanks, releasing the carp into the Mississippi River system.”
“The bad part of this is that they cannot be stopped, and or controlled, because they are such prolific breeders,” said Stokes. “In just a few years they spread throughout the Mississippi River system and are on their way to the Great Lakes and beyond.”
“The carp are the most devastating to shad in the waters they both occupy,” continued Stokes. “Threadfin and gizzard shad, and all shad, are a major food supply to almost all types of game fish, from bass and crappie to all species of catfish. The growth rate of this invasive fish is so great they eat almost constantly and they forage on the same food as the shad species. So now, the shad population is dwindling at a rapid rate. This in turn changes the entire eco system as we once knew it.”
“There are actually 9 species of Asian carp,” offered catfish angler Boomer Wilson. “I did a research paper on them back in college. The two most common are the silver carp and the bighead carp. The black carp are also horrible, and if my memory serves me right, the Missouri Department of Conservation found finger length blacks a year or so ago. That is bad news. Originally, they were not expected to reproduce in our waterways.”
There has been a hope that catfish could actually be the answer to the Asian carp problem. “If there is an upside, and I believe we have to look at it like this,” said Stokes. “The small Asian carp have become a major food supply to all game fish. Unfortunately they get so big that they can’t be eaten by bass or catfish. They grow at such a rapid rate, that blue catfish and flathead catfish are the only natural defense we have to control them because they can eat a lot of the larger size fish. This in itself, is one of the primary reasons that a 1 or 2 over 34-inch rule on catfish is so important.”
Although the 34-inch rule could not hurt, Wilson’s research found that catfish, overall, do not significantly impact the growing problem of Asian carp. “Short term studies show that in general, catfish have absolutely zero effect on carp numbers,” reported Wilson. “As sad as it is, it’s just true. The carp simply grow too fast. A silver carp can grow 5 to 7 pounds in just one year. An 80-pound catfish fish would only be able to consume 2 to 3 carp in that weight range in a week, in ideal conditions. Not to mention the speed of the silver and bigheads. Catfish burn too much energy chasing them. Like I said it’s a sad thing, but so far there is zero data showing that catfish help with population control in the least.”
Reality has shown that the fast-growing, aggressive and adaptable fishes are outcompeting native fish species for food and habitat in much of the mid-section of the country. The lost forage and habitat will impact the catfish population negatively.
That negative impact was identified, rightly, by a Missouri catfish angler. “The issue along our major waterways is that these invasive species are out competing the shad population,” clarified Jason Huggins. He chases catfish in the Missouri and Mississippi River near St. Louis.
As the invasive carp eat more and more, the shad have a reduce food supply. The result is likely to be smaller and fewer shad in the waterways. “Asian carp and shad are both filter feeders,” continued Huggins. “The Asian carp gain a much larger size, consuming more than what a shad could. Once these Asian carp get outside a year of hatching they are no longer catfish food due to their excessive growth rate.”
Understanding their biology helps understand the problem. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, bighead carp grow to a maximum of about 60 inches and 110 pounds. Silver carp also grow very fast compared to most native fishes in the United States. In aquaculture facilities, silver carp have grown to 12 pounds in one year, and may grow to a maximum of 39 inches and 60 pounds.
Among the practical problems caused to catfish anglers include sonar confusion and efficiency in fishing. Casting chunks of skipjack to a school of Asian carp is going to waste a lot of fishing time. “It is easy to confuse the Asian carp with catfish on the sonar,” Said Kentucky angler Josh Vanover.
Asian carp are found in schools of thousands. A boat motor can startle them and fill the air with jumping fish. “The surface of the water around and in front of a moving boat can suddenly erupt with thousands of jumping fish,” said Kentucky Fisheries Division Director Ron Brooks, a nationally recognized authority on this invasive species. “The damage to boats and injuries to boaters caused by high speed collisions with these fish are increasing each year.”
Safety problems caused by Asian carp are growing. Witness the many reports of water skiers and tubers being struck by jumping fish while skimming behind a boat going 30 mph. On some Kentucky waterways, it is becoming a likely and dangerous occurrence.
Kentucky is looking into the possibility of asking recreational boaters who are threatened by the presence of Asian carp to help fund the effort to eradicate the menacing Asian carp. Other states may have to do the same by adding some kind of charge to boating and fishing permits.