Asian carp pose serious threat to boaters

Experts say Asian carp, especially silver carp like this one, are a major hazard to boaters. Photo courtesy: Duane Chapman, USGS.

Experts said Wednesday boaters on Missouri's rivers should beware of silver carp jumping out of the water.

Duane Chapman, a research fish biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, still has a picture of his arm after a carp hit him. In the photo, his arm is red and covered in mucus from the fish. A welt is already starting to form.

"I do know of people getting hit out of boats, being tossed full out of boats because of silver carp," he said.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, Asian carp, which include black, silver and bighead carp, were imported to clean algae from fish farms. They escaped after floods and releases and now inhabit many rivers. Chapman said in this state, the carp are mainly found in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and in the lower portions of their major tributaries. So far, they have not spread to Missouri's lakes and reservoirs.

Jefferson City resident Alan Leary said he is worried about the carp getting into the reservoirs where he fishes. He said he is always careful about cleaning his fishing gear whenever he goes home to prevent the spread of any invasive species or diseases. Although he does not fish regularly, he said carp have jumped into the boat he was riding in.

"I've never actually been hit by one when it jumped in, but they have jumped in and landed in the boat," he said.

Chapman said adult carp eat many of the same foods native fish do, and in some cases immature native fish. This means they pose a serious threat to native species like shad and bass. His biggest worry, however, is the threat the carp pose to boaters. He said while most fish will jump when they are startled, silver carp are particularly prone to it. The fish can weigh as much as 50 pounds, and he said he has seen them hit USGS personnel and destroy their gear when they jump.

Chapman's biggest fear is a carp hitting a boat's exposed throttle. On at least two occasions, a jumping carp has hit the throttle on a USGS boat, throwing it into full throttle forward or reverse, or else snapping the throttle handle off. For that reason, he recommends boaters install a shield around the throttle to avoid potentially tragic accidents.

Chapman said anglers can help limit the spread of Asian carp by not using them as live bait. Since immature silver carp look like native gizzard shad, he said you should look closely before you use them. And if a carp lands in your boat and you have a fishing license, the fish are fair game.

"You're welcome to keep as many of them as you want. There's no limit," he said. "The meat is actually pretty good."