History of Carp in North America A Brief History of Carp in North America Researched/written by Alan Kowaleski, CAG Perhaps you have heard that carp, which is an exotic species not native to North America, have by accident invaded our game fish waters. You may have heard that the carp of today are descended from fish that 'escaped' from private stocks or were illegally introduced by unauthorized persons. How is it then that carp are found in almost every state and in waters hundreds of miles apart from each other. The reason is because the U.S. Fish Commission and almost every one of the state governments in our land undertook one of the greatest far reaching campaigns to establish the carp everywhere in our country. Let me explain. Prior to 1900, native North American fish were viewed as vital natural resources. Most of the fish we regard today as sport fish were harvested commercially by the millions of pounds. They were shipped by rail to markets where they were an important food source for a growing population. This was before the advent of refrigeration and communities relied on 'ice house' preservation. Harvested were the basses, sunfish, crappies, pike, walleye, perch, lake trout, and sturgeon. Also coarse fish such as freshwater drum, buffalo fish, catfish, suckers, bullheads and others. The results of large harvests were declining stocks of lake and river fishes at a time when the population was expanding. To answer these concerns the U.S. Congress authorized President Ulysses S. Grant to appoint the US Fish Commission in 1871 to oversee the nation's fisheries interests. Among the first tasks was to consider what species to introduce to bolster the nations supply of food fishes. By 1874 the commission after long study issued a report entitled "Fishes Especially worthy of Cultivation" It went on to say that no other species except the carp, promises so great a return in limited waters. Cited were advantages over such fish as black bass, trout, grayling and others " because it is a vegetable feeder, and although not disdaining animal matters can live on vegetation alone and can attain large weight kept in small ponds and tanks". In 1876 the commission enumerated other good qualities such as high fecundity (a count of ripe eggs in the female fish), adaptability to artificial propagation, hardiness of growth, adaptability to environmental conditions unfavorable to equally palatable species, rapid growth, harmlessness in relation to fish of other species, ability to populate waters to it's greatest extent, and fine table qualities. By 1877 citing the above reasons and adding 'there is no reason why time should be lost with less proved fishes' the commission convinced of the value of carp imported 345 fishes of scaled, mirror and leather carp from German aquaculturists. On May 26th they were placed in the Druid Hill Park ponds in Baltimore Maryland. The ponds proved inadequate and some were transferred to the Babcock lakes on the monument lot in Washington, D.C. So did they somehow escape from these confines to populate nearly everywhere? No. Now the state governments get involved. Records indicate in 1879, about 6.203 fingerlings were produced in the Babcock Lakes. These were shipped to 273 applicants in 24 states. About 6000 fingerlings were produced in the Druid Hill ponds that year and were stocked primarily in Maryland. One year later, 31,332 carp were shipped to 1,374 applicants. In 1882 carp production increased to 143,696 fish, distributed in small lots to 7,000 applicants. In 1883 about 260,000 carp were sent to 9,872 applicants in 298 of 301 congressional districts and into 1,478 counties. During the years 1879-1896 the US Fish Commission distributed 2.4 million carp, some of which were sent to Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Mexico. By 1897 the Commission discontinued the stocking because carp had been distributed nearly everywhere and many states assumed the task of propagation and stocking of carp. Within several years many states were involved in the propagation and stocking of millions of carp. The Ohio State Fish Commission stocked tributaries of Lake Erie. Every major river in Illinois was stocked. Fish rescue missions from 1890-1920 conducted by various states and the US fish Commission stocked hundreds of lakes and rivers, particularly into the Midwestern region of the US. In a few short years the effort to introduce the resource of carp had been successful. Newspapers and magazines lauded the importance to the food industry and the bright future of all citizens eating carp. Commercial production started in the 1900's. During the decade after World War II, annual catches reached 36 million pounds. Many prominent restaurants and hotels served carp on the menu. Restaurants of the Waldorf and Astoria listed "Carp in Rhine Wine Sauce" Following World War II the saltwater commercial fishing industry captured a major portion of the fishing market by consolidating and modernizing operations This resulted in tremendous productions of ocean fish and improvements in processing, packaging ,shipping and storage and a reduction in operating costs. At a time when the oceans were perceived as pure and our rivers were becoming polluted, contributed among other factors to the decline of carp as a food fish. History demonstrates that the federal and state governments of the US undertook a massive effort to install the carp in all of our waters from coast to coast in an effort that no other country has ever embarked upon. History also indicates that American anglers in great numbers lead the world today in the history of carp angling since the earliest turn of the century. Generations of anglers have enjoyed the carp as a sport or food fish. History also indicates that the carp found in our many waters did not escaped the ponds of long ago carp farmers, as the myth is told, but were placed carefully for our angling benefit by thoughtful government agencies.