Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

The Bighead Carp (Hypophthalmicthys nobilis) in Reach 26 of the Mississippi River

The bighead carp, Hypophthalmichthys nobilis, is a large, deep-bodied cyprinid introduced from eastern Asia. This species is a filter feeder that strains planktonic organisms with long comblike gill rakers.

Eric Ratcliff of the INHS Great Rivers Field Station in Alton holds a bighead carp from the Mississippi River that

actually jumped into his boat.

(Editors note: The fish held by Eric is actually a silver carp (H. molotrix) and not a bighead carp (H. nobilis) as indicated above. The specimens mentioned below were identified properly as H. nobilis.)

Three specimens of H. nobilis were collected in 1986 and 1987 from the Mississippi River in Hancock and Henderson counties, Illinois, and we collected specimens in Reach 26 of the upper Mississippi River (UMR) near Alton, Illinois, during routine fish sampling beginning in 1991.Hypophthalmichthys nobilis is now well established and common in certain habitats in Reach 26. Young-of-the-year fish in our collections indicate that successful reproduction is occurring. Specimens of H. nobilis have been reported from the Ohio River and from several streams in Arkansas.

Nothing is known of the effects that this exotic species will have on North American rivers or their fisheries. Retail acceptance of H. nobilis products has been reported, but the economic impact on commercial fisheries has not been studied. Local markets for H. nobilis products have not developed. Also, H. nobilis is considered a nuisance by the commercial fishermen that we interviewed.

The biological impact of H. nobilis on the Mississippi River is unknown. Further research on the potential impact of H. nobilis on other filter-feeding fishes, such as the paddlefish (Polyodon spathula), bigmouth buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus), and gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum), is needed. We know, however, that H. nobilis is frequently caught with P. spathula in main channel habitats, which suggests that these two species may have similar requirements.

John K. Tucker, Frederick A. Cronin, Jeffrey Stone, and Timothy B. Mihuc, Center for Aquatic Ecology

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