Common Carp

Common Carp, Cyprinus carpio

The Common Carp, Cyprinus carpio (more formally Cyprinus carpio var. communis), whose common Spanish name is carpa común, is a species in the Carp and Minnow or Cyprinidae Family, known collectively as carpas and carpitas in Mexico. Globally, there are twenty -four species in the genus Cyprinus, two of which is found in all Mexican freshwater systems. The Common Carp originated in Asia and was introduced for cultivation in Mexico in 1877 with fish being imported from Europe. It is currently the world’s most widely distributed fish and is found on all continents except Antarctica.

The Common Carps have elongated and somewhat compressed bodies that are widest near the dorsal fin origin. They are brownish-green on their backs and upper sides and transition to golden-yellow ventrally. Their fins are dusky with their caudal fin being darker than the others and their ventral fins having red tinges. Their head is fairly small with big eyes and an overhanging front jaw. Their mouth has thick lips, extends to the margin of their eyes, and has pharyngeal teeth with flattened crowns; it opens at the front in younger fish and becomes subterminal with age. They have two pairs of barbels with the shorter pair located on the upper lip. Their anal fin has 6 or 7 rays; their caudal fin is forked; and their dorsal fin has a concave anterior outline and a long base with 17 to 22 branched rays. Their body is heavily scaled.

The Common Carps are found in backwater areas of streams, rivers, and water reservoirs that normally have dense aquatic vegetation. Individuals that measure 30 to 64 cm (12 to 25 inches) in length and weigh between 3.6 and 4.5 kg (8 and 10 pounds) are common. The current world record was caught in France in 2013 and weighed 100 pounds 8 ounces. The maximum recorded length for the Common Carp is 1.22 meter (4 feet 0 inches). They are bottom dwellers and prefer water temperatures between 23oC and 30oC but can survive in a variety of waters: cold to 35oC, varying pH, some salinity, turbid with large amounts of particulate matter, and both high and low oxygen concentrations. They have a highly developed sense of hearing, smell, and taste and are omnivorous, consuming birds, water insects, larvae of insects, mollusks, worms, snakes, and zooplankton, as well as leaves, seeds, and stalks of aquatic and terrestrial plants. They significantly increase the turbidity of the water body in which they reside by their bottom feeding. Reproduction involves external fertilization with each female laying between 36,000 and 2.2 million eggs multiple times per year. Released eggs are quickly fertilized by males, become sticky, and adhere themselves to vegetation. After hatching, the fish become free swimming and start to consume food within six days of spawning. They are non-migratory and have a lifespan of up to forty-seven years in captivity but seldom live past ten years in the wild.

In Mexico the Common Carp are found in all freshwater systems.

The Common Carp has a long and interesting history. They were considered a luxury food in the middle and late Roman period and were consumed during fasting in the middle Ages. The Romans grew them in ponds. Cyprinids have been reared in China for more than 2,000 years. At present there are thirty to thirty-five strains of domesticated Common Carps in Europe. Today they are one of the major farmed fish in the world with Mexico being one of the main producers. Global production is now at a level of thirty-three million tons per year representing 14% of the total global freshwater aquaculture production, making them second to Tilapia. The quantities farmed in Mexico are unreported but significant. Various aspects of their physiology, nutrition, genetics, and diseases are intensely studied. Also conditions for their breeding and rearing in different climates have been developed. Globally they are sold at an average of 50 cents per pound, mostly domestically with very few exports due to low prices. They are normally sold either live or freshly dressed with as many as 15 value added commercial products offered from a single carp. They are considered an invasive species that is hard to eradicate (a process that started shortly after their introduction over 150 years ago) and can quickly become a pest threatening local biodiversity. The ornamental form of the Common Carp originating from Japan is known as Koi and is symbolic of courage and energy. For anglers this species runs the gambit from “hated trash fish” (North America) to “fabulous new sportsfish and table fare” (Europe). Remember if you catch one, take it home, and prepare it for a feast (keeping in mind that the flavor of the meat is directly related to the quality of the water it is taken from). If you don’t like its taste, simply use as garden fertilizer or cat food. There will be plenty more where this one came from!

Common Carp, Cyprinus carpio. Fish collected from a greater San Diego Golf Course, San Diego, California, February 2010. Length: 22 cm (8.7 inches). Identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.