Carp a Growing Problem on the Missouri River

By Robert J. Korpella

First posted on 08-31-2010

Brad Pennington was the latest river victim. Paddling his 17-foot racing kayak in the Missouri River 340 last week, Pennington was nailed by what he thought was a brick thrown from shore. Instead, it turned out that a flying silver carp had struck him in the face and almost caused him to capsize.

Pennington is all right and only reported a headache and some dizziness for a few hours. He was checked for a concussion but those results were negative. However, the incident shines more light on the growing problem of silver carp in waterways that make up the Mississippi River Basin.

Silver carp are not native to the United States. Along with their cousins, bighead carp, they were imported from Asia and introduced here as a means of controlling algae and plankton in catfish ponds. Somehow, the fish escaped the confines of pond life, slipping into streams and rivers where they started to spawn and prosper. Their ravenous appetites – Asian carp will eat almost 40 percent of their body weight in plankton daily – produce fish that weigh as much as 80 to 100 pounds.

Witnesses said the carp that hit Pennington was probably 2 to 3 feet long and they estimated its weight at 20 to 30 pounds. He was struck after he had stopped to tie up to a canoe while he made some repairs to a malfunctioning rudder on his kayak.

Both species of Asian carp produce big problems, like consuming the food supply of native fish such as large mouth buffalo and gizzard shad, which ultimately ends up taking food out of the mouths of other, more valued, river fish. Then there is that leaping habit of the silver carp that has caused lacerations and broken noses. To make matters worse, these carp have found a way to get past an electric barrier that was built to keep non-native species from entering waters in the Great Lakes Basin, where they can do significant harm to commercial fishing.

In Illinois, some commercial fishermen have adopted a “can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em” attitude toward bighead and silver carp, at times netting thousands of pounds of the problem fish. A market is slow to develop beyond people with Asian roots.

Whether Pennington would agree with Illinois’ approach is unknown. But we do know that being fish-slapped was not the worst thing that ever happened to him in a race. Pennington reports being shot at with BB guns in Texas.