Asian Carp: What’s All This Fuss about a Fish?

When people say “Asian carp,” they’re likely referring to the bighead and silver carp, both native to eastern Asia. Bighead carp are easily recognized by their distinctly low-set eyes, located near their mouth. They’re also known for their imposing size: Bigheads can grow up to 5 feet  long and weigh up to 100 pounds. Silver carp are infamous for leaping high out of the water when startled, occasionally landing in boats and injuring people.

Asian Carp & Invasive Species

Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee — Stay informed on binational efforts to control Asian carp.

Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study — Explore potential options for keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

Asian Carp Management — Follow current Asian carp management efforts in the United States.

Michigan Sea Grant — Find fact sheets and more on Great Lakes invasive species, including Asian carp

Asian Carp CanadaYour resource for information on prevention, early warning measures, response and the threat of Asian carps to the Great Lakes and beyond. 

Research & Management

International Association for Great Lakes Research — Stay informed on the latest Great Lakes research.

Great Lakes Commission — Learn more about binational efforts to protect the lakes.

Great Lakes Fishery Commission — Learn more about binational efforts to manage Great Lakes fisheries.

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative —  Explore the landscape of Great Lakes restoration efforts in the United States.

Great Lakes St Lawrence Cities Initiative — Discover what 82 mayors representing 13 million people are doing to keep our lakes great.

Asian carp were originally brought to the U.S. to control algae in southern aquaculture farms and eventually made their way into the Mississippi River, likely through flooding. Over time, the carp swam north, up the Mississippi and into the river’s tributaries, including the Illinois River. All eyes are now on the fish as they move toward the Great Lakes. In fact, an unprecedented binational effortbetween the United States and Canada has been launched to prevent the carp from establishing in the lakes.

You can see bighead and silver carp slowly swimming in Shedd’s At Home on the Great Lakes exhibit, but don’t let this gentle display deceive you. These fish are voracious predators of the tiniest prey – microscopic aquatic plants, and animals called plankton. Plankton is the basis of the entire Great Lakes food system, and given that Asian carp can eat up to 20 percent of their body weight in one day, their hefty appetites could harm the food web that native species need to survive.

At Shedd, we are encouraged and inspired by the wealth of Great Lakes information that’s available to the public, thanks to a deeply committed community domestically and internationally. We believe everyone can be powerful stewards of the Great Lakes, and we hope you will join us in caring for the abundance of life they support. 

Preventive measures

Though Asian carp aren’t the first — and won’t be the last — invasive species to threaten the lakes, they could cause serious ecological and economic harm to the region. Once established, invasive species can be nearly impossible to eradicate, so prevention is truly the best option we have.

Great Lakes fisheries

Asian carp reproduce quickly and in huge numbers so that if they get into the lakes, they could stress Great Lakes plankton populations. The multibillion-dollar Great Lakes commercial and recreational fisheries could be hit especially hard.

Zebra/quagga mussels

Join us in ensuring a vibrant, healthy future for our Great Lakes. Simple actions like properly disposing of your bait after fishing or cleaning your boat after a day on the water can make a big difference in keeping the Great Lakes healthy and beautiful for future generations.