What will happen to fisheries nationwide and even to outdoor recreation in general as Asian carp continue to spread, reproduce, and outcompete native species? We’ve just received a glimpse of a nightmarish possibility from Kentucky Lake, where angler Bill Schroeder foul-hooked and landed a 106-pound silver carp.
Although I’ve been unable to confirm it, I suspect that’s the largest silver carp taken in the United States, and possibly even the world. Experts say maximum weight for the exotic fish is about 60 pounds. And even now, the Tennessee state record for the silver carp, caught in 2013 on Kentucky Lake, was just 14 pounds, 13 ounces.
What’s going on? Silver carp like it here. So do bighead carp. Typically a larger fish, its maximum weigh is about 90 pounds. But in 2011, an angler targeting paddlefish hooked and landed a 106-pound specimen at Lake of the Ozarks.
And the exotic lionfish likes it here too. As it spreads all across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic coast, anglers are catching larger and larger specimens of this voracious predator. In its native range, it grows to 12 to 15 inches. Just a few days ago, one was caught off in the Florida Keys that measured nearly 19 inches.
Why are these exotics growing to horror-movie size proportions in our waters? Because they are exotic species, they have no “natural” predators, as they do in their native ranges. And they’re feasting on an abundance of food in our relatively fertile and healthy waters. By contrast, Asian carp struggle to survive in their native range because of pollution and overfishing.
Will the same happen with the Burmese python in the Everglades? Introduced to the wild by an irresponsible and little-regulated pet industry, it is now gobbling up native mammals and reptiles, and likely will expand its range into more developed areas. Will it grow to unprecedented size as well?
Now consider this: Asian carp are schooling fish. Frightened by disturbances on the surface, silver carp often go airborne, striking and injuring anglers and other boaters.
But the fish we see in videos of these airborne attacks usually weigh no more than 10 or 15 pounds. Imagine dozens of 100-pound silver carp taking flight all around you as you motor to your favorite fishing hole.
Of course, no one thought about such possibilities when the carp were imported by aquaculture facilities during the 1970s. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that we really started worrying about them crowding out native species in our rivers.
And then there’s the snakehead . . .