Invasive Asian Carps in North America

History of Introductions and Governmental Involvement in Promoting the Use of Grass, Silver, and Bighead Carps

Anita M. Kelly, Carole R. Engle, Michael L. Armstrong, Mike Freeze, and Andrew J. Mitchell

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874233.ch11

Abstract.—Numerous natural resource agency and media reports have alleged that Asian carps were introduced into the wild through escapes from commercial fish farms. This chapter traces the chronology associated with importations of Asian carps to North America and discusses the likeliest pathways of their introduction to the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first imported an Asian carp species, grass carp Ctenopharyngodon idella, in 1963. Since then, state and federal agencies, universities, and private fish farmers have interacted to import Asian carps, to develop production technologies, and to promote their use in both public and private sectors in a number of different states. These importations and stocking, whether in confinement or, in the case of the grass carp, sometimes in open waters, were purposeful and legal. Asian carps were introduced to take advantage of their unique food preferences (planktivory by silver carp Hypophthalmichthys molitrix and bighead carp H. nobilis, herbivory by grass carp, and molluscivory by black carp Mylopharyngodon piceus). The first known accidental release of diploid grass carp was in 1966 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Other early reports of grass carp in the wild were from waters in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Grass carp were reported from the wild in 1970, 2 years before the first private hatchery received grass carp. By 1972, grass carp had been stocked in open water systems in 16 different states. Silver carp and bighead carp were first imported purposely by a commercial fish producer in Arkansas in 1973. All silver and bighead carps were transferred to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission by March 1974 where they first successfully spawned silver carp and bighead carp later that year. The first report of silver carp in the wild was in Arizona in 1972, although strong evidence suggests that this may have been a misidentification, followed by reports in Arkansas in the wild in 1975. The Arkansas report occurred 2 years before bighead carp and silver carp were returned to private hatcheries for commercial production. By 1977, silver carp and bighead carp had been introduced to Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, and Tennessee. Research and stockings of silver carp and bighead carp were conducted by at least six state and federal agencies and three universities in seven states in the 1970s and 1980s. Public-sector agencies, which were successful in encouraging development and use of Asian carps that today are in commercial trade, are the likeliest pathways for the earliest escapes of grass carp, silver carp, and bighead carp.