What are you carping about?

February 11, 2021

Would you eat green carp and ham? Would you eat it in a Dodge Ram? Or in an ice house or on an ice dam?

When European settlers immigrated to the United States during the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, they brought along seeds for crops, chickens to lay eggs, and an assortment of animals to ensure that they would have plenty to eat in their new homeland. Some of these imports – wheat and cows for example – remain staples of our modern American food system.

Others have fallen out of favor and are now considered pests. Such is the fate of dandelions and common carp.

Common carp, which are native to Europe and Asia, were introduced to lakes in the Midwest as a game fish during the 1880s. Unfortunately, the fish proved to be a highly damaging aquatic invasive species, especially in shallow lakes and wetlands.

Carp are omnivorous bottom feeders and have a nasty habit of uprooting aquatic plants. This muddies the water and releases phosphorus that is bound in the lake bottom sediment, causing a cascade of effects, including more algae growth, diminished water clarity, and less food for native fish

and waterfowl.

Today, common carp are widespread throughout the continental United States (common indeed!) and are found in thousands of lakes, rivers and wetlands in central and southern Minnesota. They are most often seen in the spring when they spawn in shallow waters.

The Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center estimates that more than 70% of lakes in southern Minnesota have lost their aquatic plant cover and now suffer from algal blooms due to carp. Worst of all, Americans no longer treasure carp as game fish, delicious as they may be.

Watershed managers use a variety of strategies to control common carp and minimize harm to local lakes.

One of the most effective is to operate fish barriers at the inlets and outlets of large lakes to prevent carp from migrating into surrounding wetlands to spawn.

Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District recently replaced an old, dilapidated fish barrier on the northwest side of Forest Lake, where the lake outlets to the Sunrise River. The barrier prevents carp and other rough fish from migrating into Forest Lake but does not affect water levels.

The Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District has worked with Sorensen Lab at the University of Minnesota and Carp Solutions, a private company, to conduct carp population surveys in the Lake Phalen (St. Paul/Maplewood) and Lake Owasso (Shoreview) systems and track the 

carp’s movements.

Population estimates conducted in 2017 found a shocking number of carp in Owasso and Wabasso lakes - more than 400 pounds of carp per acre!

Researchers also attach tracking clips and radio transmitters to some of the carp so that they can determine where they go to spawn and when they are gathered in large groups during the winter.

Within the Phalen Chain of Lakes, RWMWD was able to successfully reduce carp populations by 60% by conducting winter harvests, temporarily drawing down Casey Lake (a small lake in North St. Paul where carp went to spawn), and installing barriers to keep carp out of other nursery areas.

CLFLWD has harvested carp from Bone, Moody and Shields Lakes and also operates winter aeration systems on Moody and Shields to increase oxygen levels so that more game fish are able to survive. The game fish eat bullheads and small carp and help to naturally control their populations.

If you are lucky or unlucky enough to catch a carp in the coming year, try eating it lightly coated in batter, fried to golden brown, and finished with a spritz of lemon. According to Polish Chef Ania Starmach, it’s the perfect dish for a holiday or special occasion.

Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water, a local government partnership with 25 members - www.mnwcd.org/emwrep. Follow her on YouTube or TikTok at “MN Nature Awesomeness” or contact her at 952-261-9599 or [email protected].