Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Holy Carp! Asian Carp Invade Kentucky Waters and Present Challenges, Export Opportunities

Brian Rideout

At 9:00 p.m. on a recent Thursday, Henderson residents Brian Rideout and Jonathan Dickson are headed out on the Ohio River.  The men are on the hunt for Asian carp which Rideout had never heard of until about five years ago when some friends invited him to go bow fishing. 

"The first time they took me out, in 30 minutes, we’d already seen over a hundred fish that were over 30 pounds," said Rideout.

Asian carp aren’t supposed to be here.  Farmers brought them to the U.S. in the 1970s for algae control in their ponds, but the species eventually escaped into the Mississippi River and its tributaries. 

Asian carp have become a real menace.  Rideout says the fish are reproducing at alarming rates.  One large adult has the ability to produce up to one million eggs a year.

"The thing that’s so unique about these fish is how quickly they populate," Rideout stated.  "The fish have spread tremendously from all the tributaries around the Mississippi River basin to right here in Henderson where we have more than we know what to do with.”

Asian carp also eat too much and that threatens native fish, such as crappy, blue gill, and catfish.

"These type of fish go after, as we’re told by marine biologists, the plankton in the water, zoo plankton and phyto plankton, and that’s what the smaller, domestic fish feed off of," explained Rideout.

The fish can consume up to 25 percent of their weight a day.  Asian carp also don’t have a natural predator.There are two main kinds of Asian carp.  Bighead carp can weigh up to 100 pounds, but the Silver carp are the most dangerous because they jump out of the water as a defense mechanism.  Silver carp have been known to jump inside of boats and even injure fishermen.  Jonathan Dickson of Henderson says the fish are more active at night and react to lights and noise.

"One of them jets out in front of you, somebody shoots it, it makes a noise, and the next thing you know here comes ten or 15 of them in that same spot hitting the side of the boat, thumping it, and it gets pretty crazy," exclaimed Dickson.

Dickson’s fishing partner, Brian Rideout, is one of the founding members of the Carp Killers Association of America which hosts bow fishing tournaments in an effort to help control the population of this invasive species.

"Just from what little research is out there, we need everyone bow fishing to even put a dent in the population," he said.

While some Kentuckians hunt Asian carp for sport, others are doing it for profit.  Three fisheries in far western Kentucky have received state tax incentives to process and market carp to consumers worldwide.  According to Rideout, Asian carp are a delicacy in China.

"The rivers over there are so contaminated that they can’t eat them wild," Rideout said.  "They have farmers who raise them in ponds and lakes but it’s not the same.”

The Chinese prefer wild carp imported from American fisheries.  China is the largest importer of Kentucky’s Asian carp, followed by Israel, Poland, and Bangladesh.  The state exported more than 218,000 pounds of carp last year, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.

Credit Lisa Autry

Rideout recently received his commercial fishing license to net and possibly sell to one of the state’s fisheries.  Fisheries don’t purchase fish that have been shot with a bow, so most of the Asian carp that Rideout catches right now, he takes to a local Chinese restaurant.  It’s not served on the menu, but employees and their families eat the fish.  Americans have yet to develop an appetite for Asian carp.

"The name carp is why is it hasn’t caught on," Rideout explained.  "People think of it as a trash fish, a rough fish.  It does have a lot of bones in it, but it’s a clean white meat.”

Rideout makes his first catch of the night.  He pulls the fish from the water and into the boat where it forcefully flops.  The carp is placed inside a large drum, where with any luck, it will be joined by many more problem fish.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.