Shedd's Great Lakes Program

Shedd is committed to protecting the Great Lakes.

Asian Carp: What’s All This Fuss About a Fish?

When people say “Asian carp”, they’re most likely referencing the bighead and silver carp, both native to Eastern Asia. Bighead carp are easily recognized by their distinctly low-set eyes, located near their mouth. They’re also known for their imposing size; bighead can grow up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and weigh up to 100 pounds (45 kilograms). Silver carp are infamous for leaping high out of the water when startled, occasionally on to boats and injuring people.

Asian carp were originally brought to the U.S. to control algae in southern aquaculture farms and eventually made their way into the Mississippi River, likely through flooding. Over time, the carp swam north, up the Mississippi and into the river’s tributaries, including the Illinois River. All eyes are now on the fish as they move closer to the Great Lakes, and an unprecedented binational effort between the United States and Canada has been launched to prevent the carp from establishing in the lakes. 

You can see bighead and silver carp slowly swimming in Shedd’s At Home on the Great Lakes exhibit, but don’t let this gentle display deceive you. These fish are voracious predators of the tiniest prey – microscopic aquatic plants, and animals called plankton. Plankton is the basis of the entire Great Lakes food system, and given that Asian carp can eat up to 20 percent of their body weight in one day, their hefty appetites could harm the food web that native species need to survive. Asian carp also reproduce quickly and in huge numbers which, if they get into the lakes, could stress Great Lakes plankon populations. The multi-billion dollar Great Lakes commercial and recreational fisheries could be hit especially hard.

However, Asian carp are not the first–and won’t be the last–invasive species to threaten the lakes. More than 180 invasive species have already established populations in the Great Lakes and their impacts are felt by wildlife and people alike. Once established, invasive species can be nearly impossible to eradicate, so prevention is truly the best option we have. An expansive community of smart, dedicated people–from scientists to private citizens, to government officials and non-profit organizations—are working hard to deal with the invasive species already in the lakes and to keep new ones from entering.

Join us in ensuring a vibrant, healthy future for our Great Lakes. Simple actions like properly disposing of your bait after fishing or cleaning your boat after recreating can make a big difference and help ensure the Great Lakes are healthy and beautiful for future generations. Read more about what you can do to keep the lakes great.

Explore to learn more
At Shedd, we are encouraged and inspired by the wealth of Great Lakes information that’s available to the public, thanks to a deeply committed community domestically and internationally. We believe everyone can be powerful stewards of the Great Lakes, and we hope you will join us in caring for the abundance of life they support.

Asian Carp and Invasive Species
Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee – Stay informed on binational efforts to control Asian carp.
Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study – Explore potential options for keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.
Asian Carp Management – Follow current Asian carp management efforts in the United States.
Michigan Sea Grant – Find fact sheets and more on Great Lakes invasive species, including Asian carp.

Research & Management
International Association for Great Lakes Research – Stay informed on the latest on Great Lakes research.
Great Lakes Commission – Learn more about binational efforts to protect the lakes.
Great Lakes Fishery Commission – Learn more about binational efforts to manage the Great Lakes fisheries.
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – Explore the landscape of Great Lakes restoration efforts south of the border.
Great Lakes St Lawrence Cities Initiative – Discover what 82 mayors representing 13 million people are doing to keep our lakes great.

Great Lakes News and Issues
Great Lakes Information Network
Healing our Waters Coalition
Alliance for Great Lakes 
The Nature Conservancy – Great Lakes Initiative
Sierra Club – Great Lakes Program

Asian Carp Exploration Online Curriculum

Teachers and students are welcme to take part in our new online curriculum, focusing on Great Lakes issues like Asian carp. Find out more.

Learn more about Asian carp

Watch the three “The High Stakes of the Great Lakes” videos to learn more about how Asian carp threaten our lakes and the efforts to keep them out: This Amazing Home, Invasive Species, and Research, Management and Action.

Help Shedd restore our local habitats

Find out how.

Great Lakes Program

Read more about our Great Lakes program (PDF).

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