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Carp Culture

How and why there are carp swimming in our waterways has always interested me. For some, they are invasive destroyers of ecosystems that must be eradicated. For those of us who pursue them with an unquenchable passion, they are hard fighting bringers of joy and they must be caught.

Carp aren’t the only fish that have been introduced into our waters. In fact, some of our favorite game fish for example, largemouth and smallmouth bass, were also introduced by a government organization called “The Commissioners of Inland Fisheries”. Established in 1870, the commissioners were tasked with “Encouraging and regulating inland fisheries…”

The ever popular largemouth bass was successfully introduced into RI waters

Crappie, bluegill, brown and rainbow trout, pike - if not for the government stocking that has taken place, we’d all be yellow perch, pickerel and fallfish anglers. Come to think about it, that doesn’t seem so bad.

Humble Origins

It is believed that the earliest introduction to US waters was in about 1830 by Capt. Henry Robinson. The carp which he brought to his home in Newburgh, New York from Holland, were placed in his private pond and subsequently escaped into the Hudson river.

By 1877, the national fish commission had employed Rudolf Hessel to officially bring carp into the country. Mr. Hessel’s initial fish ended up at Druid Hill Park ponds in Baltimore, Maryland while they waited for their new purpose made government ponds in Washington to be completed. From there, the fish would be distributed to each state’s fish commission. In turn, the states would distribute them to eager applicants, to be raised and sold as a food fish. Carp culture had made it to the US and americans were excited. “The carp now has a permanent home with us, and is accepted as - a most valuable addition to our food fish supply. - G. W. Steedmann, A. M., M. D. St. Louis, January 10, 1887.”

Eleventh census of the United States, 1890

Carp in Rhode Island

At the time of the Eleventh census of the US, at least 29 carp culturalist were reported in Rhode Island and at least 798 fish had been officially stocked. You may find it interesting to know that Massachusetts had nearly 29,000 fish planted by that time. We only have a few ideas of who these carp culturalist were and where the stockings took place. However, I believe it is safe to assume they were the source of the carp that we catch today. So what do we know about the stockings?

Roger Williams Park Park Commission - Providence Rhode Island, 1880

A 1902 report on the flora and fauna of Roger Williams Park, states that carp had been introduced to the park 20 years prior.

The fishing season was opened on June 1st and though not as many pickerel were captured as in previous years, more of the other varieties of fish were taken. The German carp which were introduced into the waters of the lakes about twenty years ago under the impression that they were vegetable feeders, and would keep the water free from the growth of the rank grass which usually grows so abundantly there, have reached large size; many of these fish will weigh twenty-five pounds each and a few have been caught in a seine that were even larger than that. These fish do not readily take a hook, those that were caught being taken in a seine drawn for the purpose. Nearly one thousand young bass of the small mouth variety have been put into the water this season, it being the intention of your commissioners to keep the water of the lakes well stocked with them as well as with other varieties of fish.

Alex G. Sanford - Warren, Rhode Island, 1881

I’ve spent a bit of time trying to track down this particular pond. Only to conclude that if it was in Warren, it no longer exists.

I received 75 carp about November 1, 1881. My pond is 100 feet long by 50 feet broad, and flows back 300 feet in length by 25 feet in width during about 9 months of the year. It has a muddy bottom. Plants and enemies. - It contains lilies, flags, and several other kinds of water plants. It also contains frogs, and we have seen small turtles and small eels in it. Food. - No food has been given, the pond seeming to contain enough. Growth and reproduction. - I should think there were about 50 original carp from 1 to 2 pounds weight each. The young when last seen were about (?) of an inch long.

Lorego Littlefield - Block Island, 1886

Lorego Littlefield last week received 20 german carp from Prof. SF Baird. The fish were obtained to stock the Fresh Pond where they were put as soon as it is possible.

Newport Mercury (Long gone newspaper) - 1886

The Newport Fish and games association seems to be a flourishing institution. The Association have obtained control of the fishing privileges of Lily Pond, which they have stocked with black bass, and of Almy’s Pond which they have stocked with German Carp…

There is little doubt in my mind that there many more places in Rhode Island that were deliberately or unintentionally stocked. What happened on the Hudson to Henry Robinson continues to happen to this day. Carp being prolific breeders, are ideally suited for mass propagation. This was part of the initial appeal of carp culture and it is part of what now makes them considered “invasive”.

Who knows?

We may never know the full story of how our scaley friends ended up in our lakes and rivers. For all we know, carp have made their way into every water way in the state. I for one can’t help but imagine what wonderful creatures lurk in every pond, reservoir, stream or river I pass in my day to day life. That is the magic of carp fishing.