Bighead carp Hypophthalmichthys nobilis, native to the large rivers of eastern China, were first brought to the U.S. in 1972 by a private fish farmer in Arkansas to improve water quality and increase fish production in culture ponds. Bighead carp first began to appear in open public waters in the early 1980's. The species has now been recorded from within, or along the borders of, at least 18 states and are actively reproducing up and down the Mississippi River. Bighead carp have been reported from the Neosho River above Grand Lake and the Grand River below Grand Lake. The presence of bighead carp in Lake Hudson has been verified by ODWC biologists. Bighead carp have also been found in the Kiamichi River below Hugo Reservoir which makes it a certainty that they exist in the Red River.
Bighead carp have been reported to be “piling up” in large numbers below dams on many Midwestern rivers, and filling the nets of commercial fishermen to the point that nets can not be lifted and sites have to be abandoned. The bighead carp is a very large deep-bodied, somewhat laterally compressed (narrow) fish with a very large head. Scales are very tiny, resembling those of trout, and the eyes are situated below the midline of the body. Gill rakers are long, comb-like and close-set allowing the species to strain plankton from the water for food. The bighead carp utilizes open water areas, moving about in the surface zones of large lowland rivers, consuming large quantities of blue-green algae, zooplankton, and aquatic insect larvae and adults. Because of its feeding habits, bighead carp is a direct competitor with paddlefish, bigmouth buffalo, and gizzard shad; as well as with all larval and juvenile fishes and native mussels. Bighead carp have the unusual habit of jumping out of the water from the sound of outboard motors. The problem has become so severe on the Missouri River that water skiers have quit using the river.