Silver carp

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Silver carp
Hypophthalmichthys molitrix Hungary.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cypriniformes
Family: Cyprinidae
Genus: Hypophthalmichthys
Species: H. molitrix
Binomial name
Hypophthalmichthys molitrix
(Valenciennes, 1844)
Fisherman with a fine silver carp
Juvenile silver carp

The silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) is a species of freshwater cyprinid fish, a variety of Asian carp native to China and Eastern Siberia.[1] It is cultivated in China. Pound for pound, more silver carp are produced worldwide in aquaculture than any other species. They are usually farmed in polyculture with other Asian carp, or sometimes Indian carp or other species. It has been introduced to, or spread by connected waterways, into at least 88 countries around the world. The most common reason for importation was for use in aquaculture, but enhancement of wild fisheries and water quality control were also important reasons for importation.[2] The silver carp reaches an average length of 60-100 cm (24-39 in) with a maximum of 140 cm (55 in) and about 45 kg (99 lb).


The silver carp is a filter feeder, and possesses a remarkably specialized apparatus capable of filtering particles as small as 4 micrometers (µm). The gill rakers are fused into a sponge-like filter, and an epibranchial organ secretes mucus which assists in trapping small particles. A strong buccal pump forces water through this filter. Silver carp, like all Hypophthalmichthys species, have no stomachs; they are thought to feed more or less constantly, largely on phytoplankton; they also consume zooplankton and detritus. Because of their plankton-feeding habits, there is concern they will compete with native planktivorous fishes, which in North America include paddlefish (Polyodon spathula), gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum), and young fish of almost all species.

Because they feed on plankton, they are sometimes successfully used for controlling water quality, especially in the control of noxious blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). However, these efforts are sometimes not successful. Certain species of blue-green algae, notably the often toxic Microcystis, can pass through the gut of silver carp unharmed, and pick up nutrients while in the gut. Thus, in some cases, blue-green algae blooms have been exacerbated by silver carp. Also, Microcystis has been shown to produce more toxins in the presence of silver carp. These carp, which have natural defenses to their toxins, sometimes can contain enough algal toxins in their systems to become hazardous to eat.[3]

Sport fishing[edit]

Main article: Carp fishing

Silver carp are filter feeders, thus are difficult to catch on typical hook-and-line gear. Special methods have been developed for these fish, the most important being the "suspension method", usually consisting of a large dough ball that disintegrates slowly, surrounded by a nest of tiny hooks embedded in the bait.[3] The entire apparatus is suspended below a large bobber. The fish feed on the small particles released from the dough ball and bump against the dough ball, with the intention of breaking off more small particles that can be filtered from the water, eventually becoming hooked on the tiny hooks.

In some areas, it is also legal to use "snagging gear", in which large, weighted treble hooks are jerked through the water, to snag the fish. In the United States, silver carp are also popular targets for bowfishermen; they are shot both in the water and in the air. In the latter case, boats are used to scare the fish and entice them to jump, and the fish are shot when they jump.[citation needed]

Related species[edit]

The genus Hypophthalmichthys has two other species, the bighead carp (H. nobilis) and the largescale silver carp (H. harmandi). The genus Aristichthys is also sometimes used for bighead carp, but this genus was based on fallacious theory and should no longer be used.[4] The bighead carp differs from the silver carp in its behavior (it does not leap from the water when startled) and also in its diet. Bighead carp are also filter feeders, but they filter larger particles than silver carp and in general consume a greater proportion of zooplankton in their diets than silver carp, which consume more phytoplankton. In at least some parts of the United States, bighead and silver carp hybridize in the wild and produce fertile offspring.

The largescale silver carp is very closely related to the silver carp, but its native range is to the south of that of the silver carp, mostly within Vietnam. Unlike bighead and silver carp, largescale silver carp have not been widely introduced around the world for use in aquaculture, although at least one introduction was made to some waters of the Soviet Union, where they hybridized with the introduced silver carp.

In North America[edit]

Silver carp were imported to North America in the 1970s to control algae growth in aquaculture and municipal wastewater treatment facilities. They escaped from captivity soon after their importation.[5] They are considered a highly invasive species.[6] Silver carp, with the closely related bighead carp, often reach extremely high population densities, and are thought to have undesirable effects on the environment and native species.[7]

By 2003, silver carp had spread into the Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio, and Missouri Rivers and many of their tributaries in the United States. By August 2009, they had become abundant in the Mississippi River watershed from Louisiana to South Dakota and Illinois, and had grown close to invading the Great Lakes via the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.[8] Navigation dams seem to have slowed their advance up the Mississippi River, and until late November 2008, silver carp had not been captured north of central Iowa on the Mississippi.[9] Dams that do not have navigation locks are complete barriers to upstream natural movement of silver carp, and it is important for fishermen not to assist this movement by the unintentional use of silver carp as bait.[10]

The silver carp is also called the flying carp for its tendency to leap from the water when startled.[11] They can grow to over 40 lb (18 kg), and can leap 10 ft (3 m) in the air. Many boaters traveling in uncovered high-speed watercraft have been injured by running into the fish while at speed. In 2003, a woman jet-skiing broke her nose and a vertebra by colliding with a silver carp, and nearly drowned.[12] In another example, a leaping silver carp broke the jaw of a teenager being pulled on an inner tube.[11] Water skiing in areas where silver carp are present is extremely dangerous.[13] British biologist and angler Jeremy Wade was hit by one in the head while on the Illinois River filming for the second season River Monsters.


  1. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2006). "Hypophthalmichthys molitrix" in FishBase. April 2006 version.
  2. ^ Kolar et al. 2005. Asian Carps of the Genus Hypophthalmichthys (Pisces, Cyprinidae) ― A Biological Synopsis and Environmental Risk Assessment
  3. ^ a b Kolar et al. 2007. Bigheaded Carps: Biological Synopsis and Environmental Risk Assessment. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.
  4. ^ ACBSRA Final Report 2005
  5. ^ USGS NAS silver carp fact sheet
  6. ^ Conover et al. 2007 Management and Control Plan for Bighead, Black, Grass, and Silver Carps in the United States. Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, Washington, D.C. 223 pp.
  7. ^ Irons et al. 2007. Reduced condition factor of two native fish species coincident with invasion of non-native Asian carps in the Illinois River, U.S.A. Is this evidence for competition and reduced fitness? Journal of Fish Biology 71:258-273
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ USGS CERC bighead and silver carp fact sheet
  11. ^ a b Moritz, R. 2008. Pesky 'flying' carp causing problems in SE Arkansas.
  12. ^ Maclean's Apr. 17 2006 pg. 39
  13. ^ "Great Flying Carp! Fish A Threat To Boaters, Skiers". The Courier-Journal. 12 March 2004. Archived from the original on 5 April 2013. 

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