Scaling down the Asian carp population

Envision a peaceful day of fishing and boating out on the river when suddenly, there’s a splashing frenzy all around you and giant fish start jumping out of the water.

It’s not a Sharknado. It’s a silver carp.

The silver carp is just one species in a family of invasive fish collectively known as Asian carp, which have grown so numerous in recent years, they’ve become a hazard to boaters, according to Virginia Tech research.

Seymour resident Bret Cunningham said he hasn’t had much experience with them in Jackson County, but he has had many jump in his boat on Kentucky Lake.

Megan Ingram of Brownstown said the White River has a few spots where they seem to be, and without warning, they will land in their boat.

“They get hurt when doing so, so there’s blood everywhere from them, and they are so big, it hurts when they hit you when they jump,” Ingram said. “They seem to get the most active when your engine is running higher RPMs. Crazy fish, for sure.”

Cody Wolka said he has had 38 jump in the boat in one day near Vallonia.

“The best time to get them jumping seems to be summertime,” he said. “They’re pretty good to eat but have two sets of Y bones in each fillet, so it makes them hard to clean. The meat is really white and flaky.”

Ben Morris said many Asian carp have jumped into his boat on the river around slack water in Rockford.

Seymour resident Nathan Simpson said he has had several jump in his boat between the State Road 258 bridge and Shieldstown. One of the carp jumped up and his girlfriend in the side of the head while boating.

Brent Jones, also of Seymour, said his first experience with Asian carp was when one weighing close to 30 pounds jumped out of the water and hit him in the head.

“I have had them jump in the boat on a large stretch of White River in Jackson County,” Jones said. “I’ve caught a ton of them since but have never eaten one, but they make great cut bait for big blue catfish.”

Jackson County resident Doug Stuckwisch said Asian carp are dangerous.

“I had one dent my boat and have had many jump into the boat,” he said. “They jump amazingly high. Unless seen in person, it’s unimaginable.”

Brian Schoenung, an Asian carp specialist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife, said silver carp are the species most often associated with jumping, and they can jump more than 10 feet high.

He explained how Asian carp originally were imported to the southern United States to help aquaculture and wastewater treatment facilities keep retention ponds clean.

“Flooding and accidental releases allowed these fish to escape into the Mississippi River system,” Schoenung said. “Asian carp have since migrated into the Ohio, White and Wabash rivers, where they are now common. This includes Jackson County.”

Bighead and silver carp fall under the broader category of Asian carp, and silver carp were first observed in Indiana in the early 1990s.

Schoenung said the native range for silver and bighead carp is southern and central China.

“They were imported in the 1970s as a green alternative to treat wastewater and aquaculture ponds, primarily in the lower Mississippi River drainage, and escaped during flooding, likely the Great Flood of 1993,” he said.

Asian carp are detrimental because they reproduce rapidly, and their explosive populations reduce the number and health of other fish, reducing game fish such as bass, crappie and bluegill populations, and also can threaten human health.

“Asian carp, specifically silver carp, often jump out of the water when disturbed by boat motors, causing damage to boats and potentially harming passengers,” he said.

Schoenung said Asian carp negatively impact native species because an adult bighead or silver carp can eat up to 40% of its body weight every day. Over time, Asian carp can drastically change the food chain and potentially displace other species.

This makes them a real threat to already threatened and endangered species.

Prevention of Asian carp from colonizing areas where they currently don’t exist, such as the Great Lakes, is a top priority. Once reproducing populations are established, it is all but impossible to get rid of them, Schoenung said.

“Instead, at that point, we attempt to manage their numbers at a tolerable level,” he said. “Agency-based removal of Asian carp and commercial fishing have shown promise at holding their populations in check.”

According to Virginia Tech research, one way to get rid of them is to eat them.

Schoenung agrees because bighead and silver carp feed on plankton (unlike the bottom-feeding common carp). Their meat tastes very mild, readily absorbs spices and marinades and is great to use in a classic fish fry.

“In part, because of their mild taste, bighead and silver carp are preferred food fish worldwide,” he said. “In fact, they are two of the world’s most popular fish in terms of total global production. These fish are an excellent source of protein and taste great.”

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It is illegal to possess live Asian carp. If you catch one or if one jumps into your boat, kill it and then either eat it later, put it in the trash or use it as cut bait.

Never release fish caught from one body of water into another body of water.

Drain your live wells before leaving the lake or river. Asian carp eggs might be floating in the water.

Put unused live bait in the trash. Don’t dump it into the lake or river. Young Asian carp resemble other common bait fish, and they might have invaded your bait bucket without you realizing it.

Report sightings of aquatic invasive species. The Department of Natural Resources is seeking information about aquatic invasive species in Indiana. Send a photo of the species and the location of the sighting to [email protected].

Source: Brian Schoenung, an Asian carp specialist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife