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The common carp, Cyprinus carpio, is a large freshwater fish well known in Australia as a significant pest of inland waterways. In 2000-2001, recreational anglers across Australia caught more carp than any other freshwater fish and it was also a major component of commercial–scale fish catches in Victoria.
While fishing (commercial or recreational) is not an effective means of carp control in itself, it can be a valuable component of an integrated carp management program.
Localised, ad hoc or one-off carp removal events (eg. carp fishing competitions) are popular in many parts of Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria. Commercial carp fishing occurs in Victoria, South Australia and (irregularly) in New South Wales.
Commercial fishing may help to keep carp numbers under control, especially when repeated over a period of time, and when areas such as carp breeding ‘hotspots’ are targeted. However, under normal circumstances only a proportion of the carp population is removed with each attempt, and because carp have a very high population recovery rate, numbers can quickly return to their original levels.
To help combat the impacts and spread of carp, some community groups have organised ‘fish-out’ events. Carp musters can be used as an opportunity to remove carp from a localised area and are a fun way of increasing community awareness. However, the impact on carp numbers in the long term is minimal. Musters can be good fundraising events for river rehabilitation projects or restocking of native species. Normal fishing rules apply to these events.
Harvested carp should be killed humanely and may be eaten but cannot be sold, unless the carp are taken by a commercial fisher who then sells them. Alternatively, the caught fish may be used by a carp processing company. For smaller quantities, options include eating, using as pet food, or composting.
Unfortunately, carp are so widespread and abundant in Australia that most state and territory fisheries agencies do not have the resources to send staff to remove carp from local sites on request, even when conditions appear favourable for carp removal (eg when large numbers are aggregating below a river barrier).
Commercial harvesting has the potential to quickly remove large quantities of carp in specific locations and can affect the carp population if it is sustained. However, sustained fishing usually takes populations to a point where it is not economically viable to continue fishing because of low market prices and high costs of fishing. Market returns will justify harvesters’ efforts only under specific conditions (eg high carp numbers, proximity to markets and minimal fishing obstructions such as snags). Public authorities or private businesses may contract endorsed commercial fishers to remove carp from a water body that they manage, as a fee-for-service contract.
An electric field is generated between anodes and cathodes placed in the water. The current causes muscle contraction and temporary paralysis, and most fish will float to the surface where they can be netted. Stunned fish usually recover quickly when the power is switched off. Unfortunately, fish in deep water are not often captured. Different electrofishing methods (eg backpack, bank-mounted and boat, including electroseining) are used depending on local site conditions.
These techniques generally require specialised training, skills and equipment or present a risk to native fish and other aquatic animals. In public waters such as rivers, lakes or impoundments the use of nets by anyone other than appropriately licensed commercial fishers is illegal and significant penalties apply. It is also illegal to possess commercial nets in, on, or adjacent to public waters.
Hand-hauled drag nets may be used in a private water body (eg a farm dam) to catch carp in New South Wales and Queensland (refer to state fishing regulations). However, trying to remove carp in this way can be labour intensive and difficult and will not eliminate carp altogether. Periodic removal will assist in keeping carp numbers low. Fishing methods will be more effective if the carp can be aggregated in a small area before trying to catch them.
Small-mesh fyke nets, large-mesh fyke nets, pound nets and electroseining were compared for the number of carp harvested per day, capture efficiency, cost of purchase and operation, ease of use, suitability for use in a range of different aquatic environments, and incidence of bycatch and injury to native fish.
Small-mesh fyke nets caught the most carp from the widest range of size classes, were the easiest to use, only resulted in a low level of potential injury to native fish and were the second most cost-effective gear type (large-mesh fyke nets were cheaper).
The Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (IA CRC) project Carp control in the Logan-Albert Rivers catchment showed that a range of commonly used, generally low-cost fisheries techniques can be used to catch carp. The IA CRC PestSmart publication Effectiveness of Carp Removal Techniques: Options for Local Governments and Community Groups concluded that no single technique was appropriate in every scenario and recommended a combination of techniques be used in an integrated approach.
Electrofishing followed by hopper trapping was found to be the most efficient technique for catching carp; these two methods could also be used simultaneously to increase the number of carp caught per unit of effort. Seine netting was another highly effective technique, but only suitable in a limited number of areas. Similar research found hauling to be the most effective method of carp removal, but only in suitable locations. Electrofishing was highly effective in all habitat types, with minimal by-catch.
For now, it is not feasible to eradicate carp from large areas using fishing methods. However, at smaller scale sites considered to be of significance, fishing techniques can be used for carp removal, and radio-tagging techniques can be used to target aggregations of carp.
The best value for management actions will be achieved by well-timed (eg in warmer months, particularly before the carp spawning season), periodic removal of carp. This is especially the case in high-value wetlands or where carp reinvasion can be managed through the use of exclusion screens. To consistently achieve lasting benefits, a strategic and ongoing control plan is needed.
The authors of these documents have taken care to validate the accuracy of the information at the time of writing. This information has been prepared with care but it is provided “as is”, without warranty of any kind, to the extent permitted by law. The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions the authors work for or those who funded the creation of this document.
Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, 2014. Fishing as a carp control method. Factsheet. PestSmart website. https://pestsmart.org.au/toolkit-resource/fishing-as-a-carp-control-method accessed 10-12-2023