Asian Carp Aren’t Just A River Problem Anymore

Josh Brown took this Asian carp while bowfishing the upper reaches of Wildcat Creek in Howard County. Photo provided by author

It has never been a question of if they would get here – but when. At first I doubted the biologists, but it looks like they were right after all. Now the day has come, much to the dismay of area anglers. What I am talking about are the destructive Asian carp.

Mistakenly thinking these fish favored larger rivers I doubted they would take up residence in smaller streams, like our own Wildcat Creek. But several times this spring I have heard about people encountering these fish, including Josh Brown, who took one with bowfishing equipment.

For years Asian carp resided in ponds and sewage lagoons in the deep south where they were used for weed control. But flooding in the late 1970’s gave the non-native, highly invasive fish an opportunity to escape, using the Mississippi as an interstate highway. The fish have continually expanded northward ever since.

In 2001 they were found in Indiana’s portion of the Ohio River. Their upward march through our state has not stopped. They quickly moved up through the Wabash River and its tributaries. With each passing year they threaten many of Indiana’s lakes and rivers.

With marauding Asian carp now on the door steps of the Great Lakes, the federal government has stepped in designing a $78.5 million battle plan hoping to thwart the invasion. “No one knows for certain what their impact would be on the Great Lakes,” says University of Notre Dame biologist David Lodge. There’s only one way to find out and I don’t think anyone wants that.”

Three species make up the Asian carp family – bighead, silver and black. They are not to be confused with our prevalent common carp.

The silver and bighead are of primary concern. These fish can eat the equivalent of 40 percent of their body weight each day wreaking havoc on any natural ecosystem they reside in. The biggest can reach 80 pounds, stretching nearly four feet long. Besides competing directly with game fish their spawning ritual of thrashing in shallow waters destroy nests of important game fish species.

The silvers also pose a particular threat to fishermen and boaters because of their ability to launch themselves up to eight feet into the air with bone-breaking force. Numerous reports have been documented detailing injuries by boaters after being struck by one of these flying fish.

Asian carp would not win a beauty contest as far as fish are concerned. They sport a large scaleless head with small body scales. The most identifiable characteristic are low set eyes and upturned mouth.

Although primarily feeding on plankton and other types of aquatic vegetation, they have been known to take live bait and the occasional artificial lure. Many are also foul-hooked by unsuspecting anglers.

If you would happen to land an Asian carp, do our freshwater ecosystem a favor and dispose of it properly. “From the DNR’s perspective, anyone catching one of these fish should not return it to the water,” said Jed Pearson, our areas fisheries biologist.

Asian carp grow so fast there is only a short window when they are susceptible to predators. The only positive about these heavy bodied fish is they have provided area bow fishermen with an added target of opportunity and some gardens with extra fertilizer.

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