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Invasive Fish With Teeth Threatens Endangered Kentucky Mussels

Ryan Hagerty, USFWS

An invasive carp species with human-like molars threatens Kentucky’s endangered freshwater mussels.

Last week, officials with Kentucky’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources discovered the second location in the country where black carp seem to be naturally reproducing, according to a press release.

Fisheries Biologist Andrew Stump said state employees found a juvenile specimen in Ballard County in Western Kentucky. The black carp was under an inch long and found in a small stream, two signs of natural reproduction.

The finding was further evidence that black carp populations are growing in the lower Ohio River drainage in Kentucky, according to a press release.

"Black Carp, we don’t know the extent of their current range in Kentucky but we do know they could have significant impacts, especially on the bivalve species," Stump said.

There are four different species of Asian carp ravaging Kentucky waterways. Silver carp get a lot of attention for their habit of jumping into people’s boats, but the lesser known black carp present a unique threat to Kentucky’s ecosystems.

Unlike the other invasive species, black carp feed on snails, freshwater mussels and other bivalves using human-like teeth.

"Because these fish predate on mollusks they have these almost like molar-shaped teeth they use to crush mollusk shells so they can ingest and consume them," he said.

Stump said black carp are a real threat to the state’s already endangered freshwater mussels, which filter the water and are an important part of the aquatic ecosystem.

Black carp are native to Asia and were accidentally introduced to the U.S. in the 1970's because they look similar to grass carp, a species that feeds on aquatic plants.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources first reported black carp in 2016 and those sightings have increased over the last few years. State officials are working with commercial fishermen and other states to get a better understanding of the species.

Stump said it's unclear whether the black carp are expanding their range or if commercial fishermen are beginning to notice them more because of the increased attention.

"This is really just a time where we've been building information and we are just becoming aware of some of these areas where these black carp are," Stump said.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.