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What the Carp? Clearing up the Carp Nomenclature Confusion

Photo: Bighead and Silver Carp Watchcard

What should you call the four invasive carp species commonly grouped together? That answer depends on where you are.

Grass, black, bighead, and silver carp are native to Southeast Asia. The latter three species were introduced to fish farms in the southern United States and municipal sewage lagoons starting in the 1970s. Grass carp were released into southern waters to control invasive plants like hydrilla. Subsequent flooding and the escape of otherwise contained bighead and silver carp took many by surprise. Their spread has been alarming.

Populations of invasive carp have established throughout the Mississippi River system including the Missouri and Illinois rivers. Though there is no evidence to suggest that there are reproducing populations of these carp in Minnesota, they certainly have made a splash.

Since 2008, The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has reported 74 captures of adult invasive carp in the Mississippi River (just last summer bighead, silver, and grass carp were caught by a commercial fisherman in the Minnesota waters of the Mississippi). Captures led DNR to develop a Minnesota Invasive Carp Action Plan designed to assess the threat of the invasive fish and to minimize their impact in Minnesota. The plan emphasizes prevention, including blocking waterways that extend into Minnesota. In fact the DNR gave Iowa over $2 million to create physical barriers to keep carp out.

The Federal Government is involved, too. In early June, as a facet of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, the Upper St. Anthony Lock, which had operated for 52 years, closed for good as a defensive tactic against carp.

Minnesota is not the only state taking actions to control invasive carp. But, as some may notice, these four carp species are referred to by a different name outside of Minnesota’s borders. This name change is due to a revision made in the Minnesota Senate in early March of 2014 that mandates:

The commissioner of natural resources shall not propose laws to the legislature that contain the term "Asian carp." The commissioner shall use the term “invasive carp” or refer to the specific species in any proposed laws, rules, or official documents when referring to carp species that are not naturalized to the waters of this state.

This change in legislation begs the question of how common carp, which are also non-native to Minnesota, fit under the "invasive" umbrella. So far, Minnesota is the only state to have made this change – organizations like the American Fisheries Society still use "Asian carp."

Naming invaders after their origins has been common practice for decades. Names like Eurasian watermilfoil, New Zealand mudsnail, and Brazilian elodea are examples. For some, such as the Chinese mystery snail (Cipangopaludina chinensis malleata), the country of origin even echoes in the scientific name. So why did Minnesota decide to switch-up Asian carp?

Minnesota State Senator John Hoffman sponsored a bill with the deliberate name change because of concerns voiced from his constituents. St. Paul’s Asian-American community was unhappy with a sign placed near one of their popular fishing areas warning waterway users about spreading carp. They felt that the unwanted fish’s name unfairly cast a negative light on their community. Because the name change cost taxpayers virtually nothing and would positively impact the community, it was an easy decision to pass the bill. While Minnesota’s decision does not change what federal or other state regulators call carp that are not native to the U.S., it is a step toward simultaneously protecting Minnesota’s waters and honoring cultural inclusivity.

Invasive carp captures must be reported to the DNR immediately. Call 888-646-6367 or email invasivecarp.dnr@state.mn.us.

By Ryan Strother
December 2015

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