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Common Carp

Cyprinus carpio

Identifying Characteristics

  • up to half a metre long
  • grow to 4 kg in British Columbia
  • two large, whisker-like, sensory barbels on each side of the upper jaw
  • thick, large scales cover the entire body
  • long dorsal fin, and both dorsal and anal fins have a large serrated spine at the leading edge
  • colour ranges from grey to golden depending on diet
This is an illustration of a Common Carp. 1 image
This is a map of British Columbia showing the spread of invasive species.
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A large aquatic alien that is an adaptable traveller.

The Common Carp is seen in many of southern British Columbia's rivers and lakes, often staying close to the bottom where they feed. They are the third most frequently introduced species worldwide, and their history as a farmed fish dates back to Roman times. Carp were used as food in many areas, but are now regarded as a pest due to their ability to compete with native fish stocks.

Impact on Communities and Native Species

Carp compete with native fish for food and have a voracious appetite, feeding on plants and aquatic invertebrates such as insects, worms and molluscs. When feeding, carp stir up the river or lake bottom and uproot plants, muddying the water and deteriorating weedy habitat. These traits combined make the Common Carp a threat to both native fish species and commercial and sport fisheries.

Invasion History

The Common Carp, originally from Eurasia, was introduced to the United States in the 1850s to be raised as fish food, and by the 1880s it had spread throughout the country. With the help of humans, it proliferated as lake or river stock, but it also spread because of its ability to move into new areas, travelling through drainage ditches or escaping from ponds. In British Columbia, the Common Carp is found in lakes in the Okanagan, on Vancouver Island, and in the Columbia and Fraser river systems. The fish first appeared in Okanagan Lake in 1917, and by 1928 had made its way to the Fraser River. Some thought that carp were gone from Vancouver Island, but in 2009, tens of thousands of young carp were seen wallowing in the shallows of Beaver Lake, just north of Victoria.

Koi, the domestic version of the Common Carp, have been released both intentionally and accidentally in BC. The population in Sproat Lake is growing since introduction in 2004.