Species Profile: Bigheaded Carps (Copi)
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
The moniker “bigheaded carps” denotes several large-bodied fish species native to Asia, a few of which have achieved dubious notoriety as devastating invaders around the globe. Over the past decade, the Bighead Carp Hypopthalmichthys nobilis and the Silver Carp H. molitrix have received considerable attention as North American invaders since escaping from catfish ponds where they were intentionally stocked in the 1970s. Since then, populations have moved northward through the Mississippi River basin towards the Laurentian Great Lakes, where officials are concerned that the invasive fish could devastate the local sport and commercial fishing industries worth over $7 billion a year.
Growing to lengths over four feet and weights exceeding one hundred pounds requires a lot of food, so the primary impact of these fish comes from their appetite- bigheaded carps are voracious herbivores with the potential to outcompete native fish for food such as algae and other small plankton. Silver carp have also become a sensation on YouTube for their jumping abilities. While videos of the flying fish, which jump when frightened by watercraft, can be entertaining, the jumping fish have been known to seriously injure passing boaters.
The silver (carp) lining is that bigheaded carp also represent one of the O.G. targets of the modern invasivore movement. Many professionals such as Chef Philippe Parola have dedicated time and effort to cooking and building markets for bigheaded carp. Nevertheless, the reputation of bigheaded carp as “trash fish” has generated considerable resistance to their appearance on the menu, resulting in several efforts to “rebrand” or rename the fish to improve marketability. The latest, and largest such effort to date suggests calling the fish “Copi” (derived from “copious” in reference to their introduced population sizes and harmful ecosystem impacts). Several non-food uses for Copi/bigheaded carp have also emerged, including the production of fertilizer.