With eyes at the bottom of their heads, these carp are definitely aliens
By Dave Dreves
Bighead carp and silver carp are two of the latest invaders of Kentucky’s waters. Arkansas fish farmers originally imported these carp from Asia in the 1970s to control plankton in ponds. However, these carp escaped captivity during floods and began appearing in major river drainages of the midwest and southern United States in the early 1980s. The fish have adapted extremely well to many of the tributaries, wetlands and slough lakes adjacent to the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in the western part of Kentucky. Bighead carp have migrated as far upstream on the Ohio River as the Markland pool in northern Kentucky and can be found in sections of the Tennessee, lower Cumberland, Kentucky and Green rivers as well as Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake. Silver carp are less of a big river fish and haven’t made it past Louisville on the Ohio River.
Silver carp spook easily at the sound of an approaching boat and have the unusual habit of jumping several feet out of the water… sometimes into the boat!
Bighead carp and silver carp are members of the group Hypophthalmichthys, which means “under eye fish.” The eyes of both fish are very low on the side of the head. Bighead carp may exceed 80 pounds while silver carp may top 50 pounds. Bighead carp have a dark gray back, an off-white belly, and numerous irregular black or brownish-orange blotches along the sides. Silver carp, as their name implies, are completely silver. Both fish have a ridge, or “keel,” along their bellies. This ridge extends from the tail to the first set of lower fins in the bighead carp, and from the tail to the throat of the silver carp.
The environmental impacts of these fish are not yet completely understood, but there is serious concern that these carp will harm larval fish and mussel populations by competing directly with them for food. Some larval and juvenile fish species, including most of the species important to sport fisherman, feed on plankton.
Since both of these fish are filter feeders, they are not routinely caught on conventional fishing gear but they are occasionally snagged. Both fish reportedly make good table fare for the person willing to remove the many bones and the undesirable strip of red meat along the sides.
New effort seeks to stop spread of Asian carp
By Lee McClellan
Kentucky’s fisheries officials are stepping up their campaign to educate anglers about the dangers of Asian carp.
“Anglers have to be aware of this threat,” said Ron Brooks, director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Responsible people will not want these things in their lakes and reservoirs.”
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s new education effort includes posters and wallet-sized cards warning anglers. The problem with Asian carp is that they can quickly dominate a body of water, and crowd out the native fish.
Asian carp can invade new bodies of water by accident. Anglers throwing cast nets for bait in the tailwaters of Kentucky and Barkley lakes or beneath locks and dams on the Ohio River may capture young Asian carp along with the native shad.
Young Asian carp look exceptionally similar to native baitfish. Anglers could unintentionally take the young Asian carp to other waters to use as bait, thinking they are shad.
“It is against the law to move live Asian carp,” Brooks explained. “We are starting an awareness campaign about these fish.”
The fisheries division has produced a new Asian Carp Alert poster that shows the difference between young Asian carp and native shad. A wallet-sized card is in the works.
“We are going to hang the poster at bait shops, marinas, license vendors and other places anglers gather,” said Gerry Buynak, assistant director of fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “We’ll distribute the cards in areas of the state with Asian carp. That way, people can distinguish between Asian carp and our own native species such as shad and skipjack herring.”
Asian carp inhabit the Ohio River in thick numbers from the Falls of the Ohio in Louisville downstream to the Mississippi River. They also exist in the lower reaches of major tributaries to the Ohio. Fisheries personnel recently discovered Asian carp in the Salt River below Taylorsville Lake.
These invaders grow quickly - and reproduce at rates that boggle the mind. “I’ve had reports from snaggers below Kentucky and Barkley lakes that quit going because all they get are Asian carp,” Brooks said.
Vibrations from boat motors cause one species of Asian carp, the silver carp, to spook and jump clear out of the water, creating hazardous boating conditions.
Anglers must not spread this menace to other waters in Kentucky by accident. The easy solution is also the simple solution: Use your baitfish in the same water body where you collected it.