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

Chapter 17: Overview


The black carp Mylopharyngodon piceus, a large cyprinid fish native to most major rivers of eastern Asia, first entered the United States in 1973 as a “contaminant” with imported grass carp Ctenopharyngodon idella or other Chinese carp stocks. By the 1980s, fish farmers and others were intentionally importing black carp into this country, primarily to control snails in aquaculture ponds. As a result, triploid and diploid black carp were distributed among fish farms and other facilities in several states, mostly in the southeastern United States. The diet of subadult and adult black carp consists largely of mollusks (snails and bivalves), consumed by using its massive pharyngeal teeth to crush the shells.

While the early introductions of black carp into the United States went largely unnoticed, during the past decade, presence of the species has created substantial controversy. The controversy has surfaced due to the increased production and widespread use of black carp for snail control in aquaculture ponds. Aquaculturists view the black carp, because of its size and specialized diet, as a useful tool to control snailborne parasites that infect channel catfish and other farmed fishes. In stark contrast, conservationists see these same attributes, but are alarmed that the fish will ultimately become established in open waters. In particular, they are concerned that wild black carp will prey heavily on native mollusks, thereby hastening the decline of many mussels and snails, many of which already are threatened or endangered. Literature on the diet of black carp in Asia and elsewhere strongly supports the contention that the fish will feed on unionid mussels and many of our native snails.