Bighead Carp - This fish may also be referred to
as noble fish, speckled amur, or lake fish.
The bighead carp was formerly known as Aristichthys nobilis
but that is no longer its accepted scientific name. It
belongs to the Cyprinidae family, which is the carp and
DISTRIBUTION: The bighead carp is a native fish of
China. Currently this fish has expanded its range to include
the United States. Bighead carp can be found in or bordering
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida,
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana,
Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Nebraska,
South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
DESCRIPTION: The body of a bighead carp is
laterally compressed with the top being a dark gray color
which grades down to off white on its belly. It has many
dark blotches on its sides. Its head is comparatively large
with no scales and a large terminal mouth. The bighead fish
has no teeth and its lower jaw protrudes out farther than
its upper jaw. The eyes are situated lower on its head and
are positioned downward. The scales of a bighead carp are
small and resemble the scales of a trout. This species is
very similar to another Asian carp the silver carp but they
can be distinguished by the fact that the bighead carp has
many dark blotches on its sides and the silver carp does
not. Indiana's record bighead carp weighed 53 lbs 8 oz. The
world record bighead carp was 73 lbs 8 oz and 56 inches long
with a girth of 35 inches.
PATHWAYS/HISTORY: In 1972 a private fish farmer
from Arkansas imported bighead carp to control aquatic weeds
in his ponds. Beginning in the early 1980's bighead carp
were being found in the open waters of the Ohio and
Mississippi Rivers. It is likely that the fish in these
rivers were escapees from an aquaculture facilities and farm
ponds. One such event where several bighead carp escaped
from a facility was in Missouri in 1994. A flood caused the
fish to escape into the Osage River. These fish spread to
the Kansas River and the Missouri River. It is reported that
bighead carp spawn in the Missouri, Illinois and Mississippi
River's. Currently there are carp in the Chicago Ship and
Sanitary Canal, which connects the Mississippi River and
Lake Michigan. It is estimated that bighead carp are 40
miles away from entering the Great Lakes system.
DISPERSAL/SPREAD: Bighead carp were imported into
the country to clean up aquaculture ponds by filtering the
water. Floods in the areas of these stocked ponds
facilitated the release of the bighead carp into open
waters. Once in open waters they began to spawn and disperse
themselves. Other ways that the bighead carp could have
spread is bait release and release to establish a food
source. Juvenile bighead carp are a popular bait item but
using them in this way enhances their ability to establish
in new areas. This fish is very important to the Asian
culture and is readily sold in Asian markets so it is
thought that some introductions of bighead carp were to
establish a local food source.
MANAGEMENT: Stopping the spread of the bighead
carp is a main management objective. A few things that can
be done to help stop the spread of bighead carp are; learn
how to correctly identify this invasive species, properly
dispose your bait on land and never in water, always drain
water from your boat, livewell and bilge before leaving the
waters access, never dump fish from one body of water to
another, and report new sightings of bighead carp to a
Fisheries Biologist. One major concern that biologists have
is how this fish will impact the Great Lakes if it enters
their waters? To stop the carp from reaching the edge of
Lake Michigan the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built an
electrical barrier in the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal.
Tests have shown that Asian carp flee from noise and
LIFE CYCLE BIOLOGY AND LIFE HISTORY: Bighead carp
is an exclusively freshwater fish. They prefer large rivers
and will not spawn in still water or small streams but do
inhabit lakes and ponds. Spawning occurs after spring rains
have flooded the river and when the temperature of the water
reaches 77o F. External fertilization takes place and the
eggs float downstream. Bighead carp grow rapidly and after
they reach maturity they are able to gain a pound or more
per month. They feed on zooplankton but they are
opportunistic feeders, meaning if zooplankton levels are low
they will eat phytoplankton and detritus. They filter the
water through their comb-like gill rakers so they only
consume those organisms small enough to penetrate their
filter feeding apparatus.
RISKS/IMPACTS: The main fear that biologist have
in regards to the bighead carp is that it consumes the exact
food that our native filter feeders eat as well as what most
juvenile fish eat. Because the bighead carp can reach such a
large size they put extreme pressure on zooplankton
populations. This loss of food for our native species could
result in their population declines. Bighead carp especially
affect paddlefish, bigmouth buffalo, gizzard shad and native
mussels. Also declines in the zooplankton population can
result in eutrophication of smaller ponds. These fish also
pose an economic threat. In areas where bighead carp are so
numerous, they are fouling the nets of commercial fisherman
to the point where they can no longer lift their nets and
are forced to abandon those fishing spots. Bighead carp is
also a main food source for the Asian community. Worldwide
bighead carp ranks fourth in total production. With the
Asian American population on the rise there is more and more
pressure for Asian markets in the U.S. to supply bighead
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16 July 2004.
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