What Do Black Carp Eat for Food?

If you are a fisher at heart, or at least a lover of fish and aquatic animals, then for sure at this point you have heard of the black carp. It’s likely that you have many questions about this fish. You might be wondering – what is black carp? Where does this species of fish come from? What does this fish look like? You might even be wondering what do black carp eat? If you have a lot of questions about this particular species, of fish, don’t worry – we are here to give you all of the information you could possibly want, all in one place!

So let’s get started answering all your black carp related questions, shall we? Hang on, because it’s going to be a really long and informative ride. There is quite a lot to learn about these creatures!

What Is Black Carp?

Monster Black Carp (Photo Credit)

First of all, the black carp is a fish that is currently on the USGS or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Invasive Species Programme. This means that black carp is not endemic to the United States and as a result can cause some damage and destruction to its newfound habitats and the creatures that reside in it. The black carp originates from eastern Asia, residing in most of the region’s major waterways. Black carp is usually found in areas of China, some areas of the far east in Russia, and most likely also in the north of Vietnam. As you can see, this fish certainly lives in a very different environment from that of the United States.

One thing that we can say is that despite the fact that the black carp is an invasive species in America, it does still have its uses in some places. Not much is really said about black carp in the UK, although this fish is relatively hard to find in our waters. Perhaps it hasn’t quite made its way into our waterways just yet. Nevertheless, we thought that we would dedicate an article to a species of carp that is loved by many, but hated by some. The information here is worth knowing regardless, especially if you plan on going carp fishing in foreign waters.

Popularity Worldwide

Black carp, also known by its scientific name Mylopharyngodon Piceus, is sometimes referred to as “black Chinese roach” or “black snail carp”. Not a very attractive name for sure. However, this fish is actually used in Chinese medicine, and as a result is a rather widely cultivated species in that part of the world. Another reason why this fish is cultivated often is because it is also eaten as food by some people. Some compare the taste of black carp meat to grouper.

Before we talk about what do black carp eat, we do want to mention something real quick.

This species of fish is one of the four “famous” domestic species that are culturally important in China. It has been very popular in their culture for more than 1000 years. In the United States, the species is known as the Asian carp. It’s also not as present throughout the world as the other three species on the list. In China, this particular species is the most respected and esteemed, and consequently, the most expensive among the 4 famous. This is because of the answer to the question “what do black carp eat” (an answer we will discuss in detail later) – the diet of this fish is scarce and rather pricey.

As you can see, although this fish is seen as an invasive species in the west, back in its place of origin it is respected and has many applications in Chinese medicine as well as in food.

What Do These Fish Look Like?

The black carp is a fish that is black brown in colour. It also has fins that are blackish gray, and bodies that are compressed laterally, but also elongated. They also look similarly to a lot of other carp species but are so named due to their colouring in particular. The average black carp can grow up to more than 3 feet long. Furthermore, they can weigh 33 pounds on average, but in fact can also weigh more! If left to flourish in an environment with plenty of food, a black carp can grow up to 5 or even 6 feet long and reach a weight of 150 pounds. Certainly this fish is a big one since it is the size and weight of a human child (on average), while sometimes weighing as much as an adult human. Fish of the species can live up to around 15 years old, making them a fish with a rather long lifespan.

Black carp young can sometimes be rather difficult to distinguish when compared to the young of the species grass carp. Grass carp are another species of fish that are not native to the United States, but that’s another conversation for later. We still have a lot of information to get through before we talk about what do black carp eat, so let’s get to it!

How Did These Fish Get to America?

what do black carp eat

Currently, black carp are in a few facilities (for research and production of fish) in several states in the United States. These states are: Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and also Texas. They are cultivated and kept securely, so as not to accidentally release the species into the wild. In fact, when they are kept in these facilities, they are usually kept as triploids, which consequently means that they are sterile and cannot reproduce independently if accidentally released. Of course, there are some diploid (non-sterile) carp that are also kept, in order to produce and propagate the triploid stock.

Black carp first entered the United States back in the early 1970s. When they came, they were in a contaminated shipment of grass carp. As we have mentioned earlier, young black carp are rather indistinguishable from young grass carp, and as a result it can be difficult to notice them in a large count of grass carp.

In the 1980s, fish farmers in the United States also introduced the species as a way to control the yellow grub and pest snail populations. After a while, this fish was also certainly used for food.

Black Carp in the Wilds of America

Despite being in the United States for around 30 years or even more, these invasive fish have yet to be found in the wild. This is according to some reports. However, there are also some conflicting reports that state that some confirmed black carp have been found in some areas in the US. It appears as though the invasion of the black carp has begun in their side of the world… as you will see below.

Even though intentional release of this species is considered to be illegal (whether they are triploid or diploid), the United States Geological Survey has reported that it seems like there have been over sixty black carp caught in the basin of the Mississipi River. These are just the confirmed cases. Furthermore, black carp has also been caught in the White River in Arkansas, the Red and Atchafalaya rivers in Louisiana, and also the Illinois and Kaskaskia rivers in Illinois. Whether these fish came from escapes or intentional releases is unclear. One confirmed case of fish escape, however, was in the Osage river back in Missouri. Most noteworthy is the fact that a lot of these captured fish were found to be diploid, and as a result they are fertile and can multiply.

Unfortunately, it does appear as though these fish are now actually beginning to multiply in the wild. There were two fingerlings found in 2015 in the boot heel of Missouri, and they were found to be diploid. This, as a result, confirmed the natural reproduction of these fish in the wilds of the United States.

Where Are Black Carp Found Now?

As we said, black carp are kept in several places in the United States for a number of purposes. And so you can find black carp in facilities in the seven states that we mentioned above. While these fish are still not found in huge populations in the United States, black carp can still also be found in their home bases, namely in China, the far east of Russia, and the North of Vietnam. We believe that there are some facilities in the UK that are also allowed to have these fish, with a special permit.

In most states in the United States, this species is illegal to stock and cannot be raised or released into the environment. However, in the places that it is legal to hold and raise these fish, the risk of escape into the wild remains.

What Do Black Carp Eat?

Now, we have made it to the question we’ve all been asking: what do black carp eat? We wanted to hold on to this question and discuss it later on, but we figured it would be good to talk about it now for the reason that it would help provide some insight and context to the next things that we are about to discuss.

So, what do black carp eat? Well, black carp are considered to be molluscivores. Therefore, they eat things such as snail feeders and mussels. Furthermore, they will also eat other freshwater creatures such as insects, crawfish, and shrimp. This is what makes the black carp an invasive and injurious species to the Americans – many of the mollusks that are found in the United States are critically endangered species. Because of this, the black carp was listed in the Lacey Act as a species that is injurious to its environment.

What Sort of Impact Would a Black Carp Have on the US Environment?

what do black carp eat

Naturally, because we have mentioned that black carp are an invasive species that can potentially be harmful to the environment, we might have sparked curiosity as a result. Well, here we will answer the question of what kind of impact black carp will consequently have on the aquatic habitats of the US.

First of all, if black carp are released into the environment somehow, they will most likely survive. In fact, they won’t just survive – rather, they will flourish and establish themselves as a resident species. Black carp is a close relative to another species of carp from Asia, the grass carp. Both species have rather similar requirements when it comes to reproduction. Grass carp have been able to propagate and spread throughout 48 states in the US (barring Vermont and Montana) since 1963. If this is the case, then there is certainly no doubt that the black carp can do the same.

Let’s take a look at the reasons why black carp may be seen as problematic if they enter the wild – in any country, not just in the United States.

Competing with Native Species

One of the biggest reasons that black carp can be harmful for the environment is for the reason that they will most likely compete with native species for food. Because of the answer to what do black carp eat, the populations of the aquatic animals that black carp consider to be food are put in further risk. This is even worsened by the fact that black carp are molluscivores as we have mentioned earlier. Due to the populations of some species of mollusks in the United States being critically endangered, black carp are particularly injurious in the wild environment.

Some of the types of food that this species likes to consume are similar to what other types of native animals eat as well. Because of this, native turtles, fish, birds, waterfowl, otters, raccoons, and even muskrats must now compete with an additional species for their daily meal. Black carps have a rather predatory behaviour and as such may also cause additional issues when it comes to competing with the other species and types of animals we have mentioned above. So, what do black carp eat? Well, they eat the same type of food that many different animals must now contest even further.

There are still many other reasons why black carp can be considered to be injurious to the environment. Here are some of them.

Transferring Pathogens

Another reason why you would not want to have black carp released into the environment is the fact that this species of fish can be host to many parasites. They’re also hosts to flukes as well as viral and even bacterial diseases. These diseases can consequently infect food or sport creatures which can be risky because they may end up in human hands. Furthermore, these diseases and parasites may also infect the populations of threatened and endangered species. Consequently, these endangered and threatened species will now have to face even more problems that can exacerbate the issue of their dying or fading population. 

Most noteworthy is the fact that some of the flukes and parasites that black carp can carry are certainly harmful to human beings. As a matter of fact, many of these parasites can even be fatal to humans if not treated in time. There is a television show on the channel Animal Planet called Monsters Inside Me. In this television show, many cases of parasites originating from bodies of water and aquatic creatures are discussed. If you want to know more about the risks of parasites and flukes coming from aquatic animals, this show is certainly one to watch. However, be warned that it is not for the faint of heart. The show may also feature some content which can affect those who have weak stomachs, so if you easily get queasy, stay away.

Increased Risk Toward Threatened and/or Endangered Species

Another reason why black carp are injurious to the environment and should not be released in the wild is the fact that they have potential to even more negatively affect the populations of threatened as well as endangered fish, turtles, mollusks, and even birds. We say birds because certain species of waterfowl rely on mollusks for their food supply. And because of the answer to the question what do black carp eat, we know that mollusks will be heavily contested.

It is likely that black carp will invade a native habitat, and then feed upon the food sources of endangered creatures. There are a number of federally listed creatures in the US such as freshwater mussels that are now further at risk due to the black carp being released in the wild. Furthermore, 1/3 of aquatic snails that are federally listed and other creatures that are candidates for protection from the US federal government are now also at risk. Who would have thought black carp would be so harmful?

Threatened Biodiversity

If this species of fish becomes established in the ecosystems of North America, the balance of their ecosystem could be very drastically altered due to what these fish eat. As a result, the native aquatic ecosystems of North America will forever be changed. Consequently, the changes would then affect the recreational, aesthetic, and even the economic values that are provided by healthy ecosystems as well as native mollusks.

Certainly, educational values could probably be affected by this as well. Biodiversity as well as the health of the ecosystem would drastically be affected for the worse, which could cause a butterfly effect throughout the world’s environment.

Is Anything Being Done to Prevent Their Spread?

Because of the answer we’ve given to the question what do black carp eat, it has become apparent that they should be kept out of the waters in the wild – at least in the US. The question now becomes “what is the US government doing to prevent the spread of this injurious invasive species?”

Thankfully, it is the mission of the USGS as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Service to protect and conserve native wildlife, plants, fish, and their respective habitats in their country. They do this for the reason that they want the American people to continue benefiting from the wonderful ecosystem and environment that exists today. It is for this reason that the service has listed the black carp as one of the injurious species invading the country. It is listed under the Lacey Act.

Under this listing, the importation as well as the transport of black carp from state to state is prohibited. As a result, it is no longer possible for many states to introduce black carp to their local environments and waterways. At the same time, it has become less profitable for states cultivating this fish legally to do so. As a result, more people will become dissuaded and discouraged from producing and propagating this invasive fish.

Why Was it Necessary to List this Species Under the Lacey Act?

The black carp was listed under the Lacey Act because The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has found that it was necessary. They analysed data that was produced scientifically, and found that in order to protect the interests of wildlife, wildlife resources, as well as human beings throughout America, black carp must be regulated. The service has found it necessary to prevent the introduction of this species of carp into the United States ecosystems regardless of whether the introduction was accidental or on purpose.

It is certainly important for us to clarify the necessity of the ruling but bans the importation and interstate transport of this injurious species. So here it is: the reason why the US federal government is so strict when it comes to preventing the further propagation and introduction  of this species into the wild is the fact that once a population establishes itself, it would become almost impossible it’s completely trace and eradicate every single trace of them.

This is why in some states like Indiana (which prohibits the possession, importation, or release of this fish into anybody of water private or public), a black carp must be killed immediately if it is caught. Furthermore, it must not be returned to the water, and must be disposed of in another manner. However, in this state, a permit for agriculture can be provided if deemed necessary for educational, scientific research, or medical purposes.

Other Options Considered Before Listing Under the Lacey Act

Sterilisation was considered as an option for those who wanted to continue trading in black carp. However, it seems like there are still ecological risks posed by sterile triploid black carp. Adults of this species can eat up to 3 or 4 pounds a food such as mollusks every single day. This is a disturbing number considering the many endangered species that live in American waterways.

The service also considered the use of chemical treatment in order to control the population of black carp. However, although chemical treatment seems like the best option, the chemicals are expensive and other fish and creatures in the water might also be affected.

Are There Any Negatives to This Ruling?

Of course, with the benefits of banning the importation and transport of black carp also comes some possible negative impact. First of all, what do black carp eat? They are molluscivores, and so they eat creatures such as freshwater shrimp, mollusks, crawfish, snails, and the like. Their diet is both a positive and negative point to their existence in the wild. For example, because they eat mollusks and snails, the endangered and threatened species of this type of creatures are further in danger. However, for the same reason, the diet of the black carp is ideal in controlling the populations of pest snails and creatures in the wild.

As a matter of fact, another point that we have previously mentioned is the fact that when this species of fish was first intentionally introduced into the United States back in the 1980s, it was for a purpose.  Black carp was used in the 1980s by fish farmers in order to control the populations of pest snails and yellow grub in their facilities. The banning of the transport and importation of black carp thus consequently results in fish farmers and cultivators needing to find alternative solutions to keeping the populations of pest snails down.

Economic Trade Offs

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service also states that upon analysing data that was made available to them, further tradeoffs were observed. Although significant ecological and environmental damage is prevented and avoided by disallowing the further spread of black carp into the wild, there is a likewise negative result. For example, the sectors that use, produce, and sell the black carp are all negatively affected by this ruling. In almost all cases, for example, business would likely shut down due to the lack of interest from other states. If business is not completely dead, growth will probably be permanently stunted due to the fact that there is no outside interest or parties that will benefit from the propagation and breeding of this species.

The Service recognises that while businesses may flounder and possibly die off, the importance of preventing further damage to United States waters is more important. As a result, they have accepted the economical tradeoffs because the benefits of keeping these fish out of the wild waters of the US far outweigh the economic losses.

What Can You Do to Prevent the Spread?

If you are wondering what you yourself could do in order to prevent the further spread of black carp in the wild, here they are. There are a few things that you as an individual can do in order to help prevent further damage to American water systems. The same in formation below would also apply if you lived in the United Kingdom – or any other country in the world. You would just have to do some research into which species are considered as invasive and unwelcome in your corner of the world.

Inform Others

One thing that we can suggest you do is to share information with others about this Lacey Act listed carp. You can tell your family and or friends residing or visiting the United States about this fish. Answer questions like what do black carp eat, why are they dangerous to native creatures, why are they considered invasive species, and why is it important to keep them out of local waterways. The more people who are aware and informed about the nature of this fish as well as its diet, the better. Hence, we are trying to do our part in spreading the knowledge so that we can help protect our local ecosystems.

Likewise, you can also suggest that your family and friends also spread this information to further increase awareness and consequently protect the environment. If you would like to make this job easier on yourself, you can simply take the link to this article and share it to your friends and family or your social media.

Learn How to Identify Invasive Species

Another thing that you can do especially if you are frequently out on bodies of water is to learn how to identify invasive water species. In doing so, you can then help to control the population of these creatures by disposing of them (outside of the water) and then reporting your findings to the local environmental departments. If you are fishing in the USA, you can certainly also choose to report your findings to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in order to make them aware of the situation in your area. This will help the service to plan what they can do.

When Fishing

If you like to fish, there are a few things that you can remember that while small, can actually be significantly helpful.

  • If you are fishing with bait that you normally collect yourself, please consider using bait fish from the body of water in which you plan to fish. This helps in preventing the spread of different species of baitfish from one body of water to the next, in case you are using live bait fish or fresh fish that may still contain some fertilised eggs. Using local bait fish also prevents attracting predatory fish from other bodies of water into the area.
  • If you have any unused bait, we advise that you dispose of it on land. Never dispose of your bait fish in bodies of water. This is also for the reason that we have stated above. As a general rule of thumb, it is always good to avoid introducing a species of fish into a body of water if you are not certain whether they are endemic there or not.
  • Before leaving the area where you were fishing, make sure that you always drain the water from your livewell, your bilge and your boat. This is because doing this will prevent any possible stowaways that you might accidentally introduce into your next fishing destination.
  • Although we have already stated this above, and although it seems like it’s a little redundant, we will repeat it anyway. Do your best not to transfer any fish from one body or system of water to another.
  • Finally, if you find any black carp or any other species of Asian carp, kill them immediately.


Black carp are a species of fish that are loved in one corner of the world. On the other side however, this species is seen as invasive and injurious. As much as we would love to advocate the fair and humane treatment of all animals, we find that it is necessary to advise the proper handling and disposal of black carp found in the wild, at least in places where they are considered as pests. Although there isn’t much information on black carp in the UK, we do still think that it’s necessary to share all of this information nonetheless.

We hope that this informative article about black carp answers all of your questions including what do black carp eat. And finally, we hope that you have picked up some interesting info about this fish that you can pass on!