Black Carp: Biological Synopsis and Risk Assessment of an Introduced Fish

Chapter 1: Introduction


Cyprinidae, the carps and minnows, with about 2,010 species in 210 genera, is the largest family of freshwater fishes in the world (Nelson 1994). The group includes species with a wide range of sizes and shapes, life history styles, and habitat preferences. While cyprinids primarily inhabit freshwater, some do enter brackish water. They also have a wide natural geographic distribution, occurring throughout most of the northern hemisphere, as well as much of Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. As a result of aquaculture and subsequent introductions, they essentially have a worldwide distribution. The widespread distribution, large number of species, and ability of some species to tolerate harsh environmental conditions make them one of the most highly exploited groups of fishes in the world. While their utilization is primarily as food fishes for humans, cyprinids also are important in the aquarium fish industry, and some are cultured and introduced for purposes of biocontrol for aquatic plants and snails.

The black carp Mylopharyngodon piceus (Figures 1.1–1.3), native to eastern Asia, is one of several commercially important carps often referred to as the Chinese or Asian carps. It is a large fish, reported to attain lengths of more than 1.5 m and weigh more than 70 kg, that inhabits big rivers and associated backwaters. Unlike most other cyprinids, adult black carp feed almost exclusively on mollusks (mussels and snails). It is morphologically adapted for such a specialized diet, being armed with large, crushing teeth mounted on large and well-muscled pharyngeal jaws (Figure 1.4).