Considered a nuisance fish by most anglers in America, carp in Texas seem to be as divisive a topic as the Dallas Cowboys, the legalization of marijuana, or Kinky Freidman. Some love them, many hate them. Discussions about carp can quickly become as heated of a debate as one about UT vs A&M, putting sauce on Bar-B-Que (notice the spelling), or wind turbines. As carp fishing (especially fly fishing) becomes increasingly popular in Texas, this divisiveness may get further entrenched. All sides of the carp debate feel solidly correct, but what is the truth...are they trash fish, do they destroy the environment, are they a prize catch? What are these carp in Texas and what is their impact?
In this five-part series, Texas Freshwater Fly Fishing, will attempt to dive deeply into the subject to root out as much CORRECT information as possible. Be sure to understand the facts before you make a decision.
Before we dive too deep into, Part 2 - Why are Carp Here?, make sure you read Part 1 - What are Carp? (And What Ain't?)
Here, in Part 2, Texas Freshwater Fly Fishing will dive deep into how the different species of carp (Common, Grass, Silver and Bighead) have each gotten into the waters of Texas. Most of us know, and if you read Part 1 you definitely know, that true Carp are not native to Texas, but they are still here. How and why did these species of fish end up in our waters? Each species has a different story.
Bighead and Silver Carp
Lets work backwards off of the first article and talk about Bighead and Silver Carp first. Silver Carp are native to the eastern most regions of mainland China and southeast Russia, from about the Xi River in the south to the Amur River in the north. Bighead Carp are native to much of this same area.
Beginning in the 1970s, both of these species were brought to the United States, in order to control algae in fish-farm ponds and zooplankton and phytoplankton in other aquaculture. In 1981, the first Bighead Carp in "natural waters" was caught on the Ohio River. It is believed that this fish had escaped from a fish-farm. Since that time, due to floods, natural disasters, and plain old human negligence, other escaped fish that have survived, spawned, and thrived in the waters of the Mississippi basin.
Since initial escaped fish, other populations of Bighead and Silver Carp have found their way into Texas because of some of these same reasons mentioned above (floods, negligence, etc.) But there is also another potential "super-spreader" for Asian Carp populations. As mentioned in Part 1, both Bighead and Silver Carp look like Gizzard Shad, a popular live-bait for many fisherman. As this bait gets transported from one waterway to another, some Bighead and Silver Carp have also been transported and unintentionally released into different waters around the state. To help combat this and prevent the spread of Asian Carp populations, Texas Parks and Wildlife has now imposed a ban on transporting live-bait from the Sulphur River, Big Cypress Bayou, and the Red River downstream of Lake Texoma.
|Juvenile Silver Carp:CC BY-SA 3.0|
Since their introduced into the United States, Silver Carp seem to be relegated to the far northeastern portions of the state, near the borders with Oklahoma and Arkansas. Bighead Carp, on the other hand, are present in the San Jacinto River, Kirby Lake Reservoir, Victor Brawning, and Lake Fort Phantom Hill. Further spread of these Asian Carp populations could pose some major issues if they continue to expand; however, we will get into that in the next article.
|Distribution of Silver Carp in United States|
|Distribution of Bighead Carp in the United States|
|Photo courtesy of Keith Miklas|
The history of Grass Carp populations in Texas has some similarities to Bighead and Silver Carp, but it is a story of their own. Grass Carp, for the most part, are not spawning and establishing growing populations in the waters of our state. But that doesn't mean that Grass Carp don't exist in our waters, or that they don't escape from where they were stocked and swim to other areas either.
Like Bighead and Silver Carp, Grass Carp are native to eastern Asia, from the norther portions of Vietnam in the south, to the Amur River in the north. Grass Carp were first brought to the United States in 1963, as a way for fish-farms to control aquatic vegetation growth in their facilities. Also, as with Bighead and Silver Carp, these introduced Grass Carp found their way out of these facilities and into the surrounding waterways. Since that time Grass Carp have been introduced in 45 states, including spawning populations in waterers all along the Mississippi River, Illinois River, and even the Trinity River/Galveston Bay system here in Texas.
Other populations of Grass Carp in Texas are nonreproducing, sterile, triploid specimen that are stocked in a body of water (usually to control weed growth.) However, these fish do not always stay where they are stocked and have managed to find their way into other waters, usually due to flooding or the destruction of barriers for one reason or another. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, populations of triploid Grass Carp have been stocked in at least 42 bodies of water in Texas (this list can be found here.)
However, one thing I find very interesting about this list is that Lake Austin is not on it. Grass Carp were stocked into Lake Austin starting in 2002, in order to control the hydrilla growth in the lake. This stocking does not appear to show up on this list. One possible explanation of this is that it was the City of Austin, and not TP&W, that stocked there fish in the lake. If this is the case, and this is only a list of bodies of water where Grass Carp were stocked by TP&W, it would mean that there are potentially many other bodies of water that legally (or not) contain Grass Carp. Other people/organizations can get permits to stock triploid Grass Carp from the state of Texas in order to control unwanted weed growth in their water.
As I mentioned earlier, their is one diploid (non-sterile) population of Grass Carp in Texas that is present in Lake Conroe, of the Trinity River-Galveston Bay system. This population was established because diploid Grass Carp escaped from legal experiments in the area. Oh, humans...
|Distribution of Grass Carp in the United States|
|Photo courtesy of Jim Gray|
Common Carp, unlike the other carp in this article, are native to Europe and western Asia. The species is native to rivers that drain into the Black Sea, Caspian Sea, and Aral Sea, but the Danube River is thought to be the origin of the Common Carp. Since the time of the Roman Empire, Common Carp have been "farmed" as a food source, and have been spread around the world for this purpose. It is now thought to be the third most commonly introduced fish around the world.
Introduced to the United States in 1877 as a cheap food source, Common Carp were fenced in and guarded as a "precious brood stock," at first. Soon after that American introduction, in 1881 the Common Carp came to Texas. The state's first fish hatchery was established by the U.S. Fish Commission at Barton Springs in Austin, and this hatchery was a carp production facility.
The commissioner of this facility began to freely (by the tens of thousands) share these "German Carp" with anyone who wanted to stock them in their private waters. Since that time, Common Carp have been introduced and/or spread to almost every freshwater basin in Texas, allowing the species to have established itself here long enough to now be considered naturalized.
|Current known distribution of Common Carp in the Contiguous United States|
We will get into the impact that all these species of carp have had on Texas (good and bad) next article.