7 Surprising carp facts

How well do you know your carp?

Here are some fun carp facts to help you become a font of carp wisdom.

1. Carp originate from the Black, Aral and Caspian Seas

Middle east map

Image source: CIA
The carp is now endangered in their native waters.

The common carp has its origins in the Black, Aral and Caspian Sea basins. From there the species spread east into Siberia and China, and west into the Danube. The Romans were the first Europeans to farm carp, a practice that probably developed earlier and separately in China and Japan. The later spread of the fish throughout Europe, Asia and America is purely a product of human activity.

In the US, the Asian carp is a menace, devastating native fish populations, in Japan, the Koi carp is revered as an ornamental fish. Here in the UK, we love our carp and always put them back, travel to Eastern Europe and you’ll find them on the menu. Carp are plentiful everywhere, except their native waters, where they are now endangered.

2. They arrived in Britain in the 15th century

Image of Treatsye of fysshynge wyth an angle

Image source: Budden Brooks
“He is an evil fish to take.”

It wasn’t the Romans who brought carp to Britain. In fact, the fish hasn’t been here nearly as long as some might think. The first reference to the fish appears in the, “Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle.” There carp is described as:

“He is an evil fish to take. For he is so strongly armoured in the mouth that no light tackle may hold him.”

There is some debate as to when the manuscript of the Treatyse was first written – the text is late 1400s, but the introduction is almost certainly a copy of a 12th century manuscript – but the fact that Chaucer makes no mention of the fish in his 14th century works makes it likely that carp came onto the menu sometime in the 15th century.

3. Carp are part of the minnow family

minnow fish

Image source: Lisa Williams
Who’d have thought the mighty carp was related to a minnow!

Carp can grow to monstrous proportions, but the fish we love to catch is actually, a minnow. The biggest carp ever caught (Guinness book of records) was a 94 lb common carp hooked by Martin Locke at Lac de Curton, France on 11th January 2010. He nicknamed the fish, Lockey’s Lump.

The reason why carp grow so big may be an evolutionary one. Carp don’t have a true stomach, instead, their intestine digests food as it travels its length. As a result, carp are constantly foraging for food. Eating a lot promotes growth, and growing quickly helps young fish avoid becoming prey. The result: a quick growing fish that eats a lot – potentially 30 –  40% of its body weight a day.

4. Carp caviar is popular in Europe and the US

carp caviar

Europe and the US can’t get enough carp caviar.
Source: Seabamirum

Carp was originally introduced to America in the 19th century as a cheap food source.  Overfishing of native species from rivers and lakes, as well as the appetites of European settlers encouraged the US department of fisheries to begin a concerted campaign to breed carp in 1877.

To begin with, carp were prized for the table, but over time, as they escaped into North American river systems, the fish became an invasive menace, out eating its native rivals and destroying fragile ecosystems. Carp are now hated, but nevertheless, like in Europe the US market for carp caviar is booming – proof that if you can’t beat it – you may as well eat it!

5. It’s tricky to know their gender (unless it’s mating season)

carp gender

“Hey Carl!”, “It’s Carly!”
Source: Phil’s 1stPix

Sexing your catch isn’t easy, especially outside of the mating season, but there are some clues about whether your prize specimen is a boy or a girl. First off, males tend (though not always) to be a little slimmer than females, and their genital opening is concave and less noticeable than that of the female, which is larger and may even protrude slightly.

During mating season, it’s a whole lot easier to tell male from female. Females’ abdomens swell with eggs and their genital enlarges to resemble a small fleshy tube. Males, meanwhile develop “tubercles”, small bony lumps around the head and gills, and they lose their mucus coating, becoming rough to the touch.

6. Carp are considered a good omen

Kwan-yin statue over carp lake

Image source: Yunnan Adventure
A statue of Kwan-yin overlooking a natural water fish lake.

Some love nothing better than to set off for the pond, carp fishing rods in hand, others wouldn’t dream of catching their favorite koi. But whether you’re a European who loves to catch carp, or an Asian who rears them to look at, what we share is our love of carp and an ancient belief in the good fortune they bring.

The Christian tradition of eating fish on a Friday originates in the pagan mythology of the Norse and Germanic peoples of Europe. The day’s name comes from Freyja or perhaps Frigg, both goddesses, and possibly originally the same deity. Freyja was the goddess of fertility – and her symbol is the fish.

Travel east to China and you’ll find carp associated with the “Great Mother”, Kwan-yin. Associated with, among other things, rebirth and fertility, Kwan-yin is often depicted in the form of a fish.

7. Koi carp can fetch over a million dollars

Koi carp

Koi carp can fetch insane prices.
Source: sophietica

Japanese Koi carp are among the most expensive fish on the planet. A symbol of prosperity and status, it’s impossible to say exactly how much the most expensive fish are sold for since negotiations usually happen in private.

It’s thought that at the peak of the Koi “boom” in 1980s Japan, the most highly prized specimens could fetch as much as $1,000,000 – or around $2,800,000 in today’s money. The buyers were rich corporations who displayed their “catch” in ornamental tanks in office atria.