Are You Supposed To Kill Carp Fish?

Carp are an invasive species in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. They are non-native species that have been introduced into waterways and in some cases took them over and pushed out native fish species.

Many programs have been tried in an attempt to kill carp fish and there are more in development. One of the more recent ideas is that sound can be used to kill or harm fish to reduce populations.

In the USA there are four main invasive species of carp fish that have become a problem. The bighead (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), the silver (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), the black (Mylopharyngodon piceus), and the grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) are the ones that have become the biggest problems.

You may have heard as early as your youth that when you catch carp in the rivers or other water bodies around your home you should throw them up on the dock or bank and not put them back in the water. In other words, you should kill them.

Should you kill carp fish? That’s what this article is about. Read on to find out a lot more about how these fish are harming the environment and wreaking havoc on waterways from Canada down to Mexico in North America.

Primary Reason for Killing Carp

Some states like Indiana require you to kill these fish if they jump into your boat or you catch one. While many states have their own requirements regarding this fish species, most states consider the carp to be an invasive species to be removed at every opportunity.

So, are you supposed to kill carp fish when you get one? Read on to learn what to do with carp, plus get helpful tips on how to kill them if you have to!

Carp cause environmental damage to our waterways by destroying the habitat other fish used to enjoy. They upset the delicate balance of the food chain that has been established over millions of years. This invasive species has caused a shock to the freshwater habitat of the USA and elsewhere. Do what you can to reduce the population of carp and restore nature’s balance.

What Can You Do With Carp?

Carp fish

Carp are not only harmful to the quality of water in a place by causing more turbidity but they also destroy the habitat of native fish. Ecosystems thrive on stability. On balance. When an invasive species interrupts and derails that, they are bad for the environment because it’s an unnatural change.

If you love fishing and the fish you are used to catching, you’ll do your part to ensure that any other non-native species cannot get a foothold in the area. Invasive species take over so quickly.

Look at the Coqui frogs in Hawaii. These are noise polluters that came from Puerto Rico on plants from the other side of the world. They have been trying for years to remove them. It’s a continuous battle that will likely be in vain. Same with carp. They’ve been established in the USA since the 1800s. We didn’t move quickly enough!

Carp are in such high numbers in some places that anything we do isn’t likely to affect them much. Still, do your part and try to get rid of these pesky and far-from-delicious fish! There are different ways to deal with the carp you just caught, such as:

1. Cook the Fish

Cleaning And Cooking Carp

Many people eat carp. In Kentucky, they’ve rebranded them as ‘Kentucky Tuna’ to entice people to at least try them. They eat alligators in some quantity there so why not?

Carp are best eaten in as fresh a state as possible. You don’t want to freeze it for a couple of months and then cook it up. Kill, bleed, gut, and scale it before you leave your fishing spot and put it on ice right away. Take it home and cook it quickly.

Start with a shallow cut at the anus and move forward toward the head. Don’t cut too deeply or you’ll cut into the gallbladder and the entire fish is ruined at that point. If you eat the gallbladder or a fish that was tainted by puncturing the gallbladder, you could end up with acute renal (kidney) failure in the hospital. Don’t do it!

Filleting to remove all the meat from the dead carp is highly recommended. Don’t cook these fish whole or even with the skin on in the broiler. Remove the head and scales and tails and fins and all of it.

Note – you’re better off gutting these fish in the great outdoors, and not in your kitchen. To me, they have a distinctive smell that emits from the intestines and digestive tract that I avoid at all costs when in the kitchen. If you do gut these fish at home, have a spray nozzle from your faucet ready to wash all the liquid down the sink.

Do NOT put intestines and stomach in your disposal because they can get wrapped up in there and create a real mess!

Cut the head off just beyond the gills. Cut the tail and all the fins off. Carp have a lot of bones, which is another great reason to avoid this fish altogether, but if you’re going to try to eat it then persevere and see how it goes!

Cut out the mud vein. This is an area under the dorsal (top) of the fish. Make V-shaped cuts on each side of the top of the fish over the spinal cord. Finish the cut with scissors and remove that piece entirely.

Cut the carp crosswise into steaks. You can bake or fry them like this, or you could also cut the steaks in half. Up to you!

Cook the filets how you prefer. One way you could try is to cover them in butter and pepper and some chopped onions and garlic and put them on vegetable-oiled foil and wrap them up, poking a couple of holes in the top. We broil on a pan at high heat (500°F or more) in the oven at 350°F.

They cook quickly, no more than 10 minutes, and only that long for bigger steaks. Some people throw in tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, or other veggies with it.

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2. Smoke the Carp

If you want to smoke a whole carp, it can take 10 to 20 hours to do so.

Cut the heads off the fish, gut them, remove the mud veins, take the fins off and soak them in an 85% mixture of saltwater with pineapple juice and lemon for 48 hours.

The carp flesh should be smoked at 145°F, and ideally with some hickory wood for the ultimate flavor. When done, remove the fish from the smoker, and with a spatula, remove the meat. Add some fresh lemon juice to it and enjoy.

There shouldn’t be any fishy smell when smoked. This is why many people like it cooked this way.

3. Compost Carp 

You can use the flesh, skin, guts, and bones of carp to fertilize your garden if you’d rather not eat it. Carp are not difficult to shoot with bow and arrow and it’s possible to get buckets full of them if you’re keen on this activity.

Using fish as soil fertilizer is not a new concept. You may have learned in high school that Native Americans would put a fish with each seed they planted. I can’t recall exactly what they were planting, but the belief was strong that this would help their corn, tomatoes, or other crops grow well.

Composting carp usually involves drying it first. After you let the dead carp sit out in the sun for a few days, you will want to start breaking it up and throwing the parts in the garden. This will help the plants grow stronger and produce more food due to increased nitrogen content in the soil.

The problem with using fish in your compost and garden is that scavengers will be naturally drawn to the smell and dig them up or grab them while they are being dried.

Never Throw Dead Carp Into a Lake

Naturally, you may think it’s a good idea to throw the carp you kill back into the water where you caught it. In some places, it is illegal to do so and you can be fined. Take it back home to compost it, or toss it up on the bank like most people. Cats or dogs, foxes, birds of prey, or some other predator will find it.

You may know someone who likes the taste of carp, it’s sort of an acquired taste, like mullet. There are smoked mullet stands in south Florida that attract dozens of the same customers each week. Give your carp catch to a neighbor or friend who will enjoy it!

Some States Advocate Killing Invasive Carp

In Texas, silver carp and bighead are considered exotic species, and yet they have tournaments and advocate catching and eating those under 10 lb.

It is illegal in Texas to leave a fish to die, or kill a fish and leave it dead in nature. You must take it to eat, give away, or use in chum or something else. They say that carp under 10 pounds can be good eating if the proper preparation is used. They recommend these cooking methods – deep-fat frying, baking, smoking, pressure-cooking, chowdering, and pickling.

In Florida, Chinese Grass Carp are regulated as a ‘conditional species’. The ones there have been stocked in lakes to control excessive plant growth. If you catch one, you must immediately release it. Permits are required to take them. Sometimes bow fishing is allowed to control excessive populations in lakes.

As mentioned earlier, in Indiana it is illegal to throw a carp back into the water if it has jumped into your boat! You must kill it and use it for something. You might even be eligible for a $100 bounty for each black carp you catch in Indiana.

Research your specific state to see what their laws are on killing carp. There are carp present in all United States except Alaska. State laws vary between states and change with time, this is the case for all fishing laws so it’s up to you to stay current on the laws for your state.

No Limits for Killing Carp in the Many States

Many states do not have catch limits for carp, and in some, you can bowfish and kill 25 in a day without a problem. The number of carp is so out of hand especially in the Mississippi River and tributaries that even if you and your friends killed hundreds of carp per day, it isn’t going to make a dent in the vast population of invasive carp.

The more Asian Carp in our waters, the more they change the composition of the ecosystem. Carp increase the sediment in the water and can decrease mussels and native plants in the lakes and streams. Carp are like the perfect invasive species. They survive in low salinity and oxygen levels. They eat a variety of food and they can live for up to 40 years!

Carp will destroy the nesting grounds for bass and disrupt their living. If you like to fish for bass, don’t be surprised that Carp might ruin your fishing trips. Some people think it’s a myth, but there is no doubt that Carp will destroy the vegetation and leave bass no grounds to hide. Other fish species may join Carp in invading and killing many of the local bass. Bass can’t spawn successfully with the presence of a lot of Carp, and unless we kill all the carp population, the bass will die off entirely.

Carp vs. Bass

Make a choice. Do you want to continue to fish for and eat amazing bass, or will you settle for carp? They are competing for the same resources and space in many lakes around the eastern USA. I remember catching big carp in rivers in Pennsylvania back in the 1980s. They were well established there by that time period. Imagine now!

Carp are bottom dwellers that will overrun the nesting grounds of bass and disrupt their beds and spawning. If you like fishing for bass, you should take this personally and try to eliminate any carp you catch – especially in lakes where it is legal to do so.

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National Wide Carp Control

The NCCP aims to investigate the possibility of releasing a carp virus, CyHV-3 (Cyprinid herpesvirus 3), to lower the Carp in the ocean’s population significantly. Researchers from Queensland University have tested the impacts of the CyHV-3 virus on 13 different native fish species, frogs, chickens, turtles, and mice and found that the virus does not cause any harm to any of these other species. The CyHV-3 virus is extremely infectious and is primarily transmitted by infected Carp to the entire Carp population. The virus might also be spread through the water to other fish when a healthy fish swims in the water with an infected fish. Moreover, this virus can stay active for up to 3 days in these water bodies. The CyHV-3 virus may cause symptoms in fish at temperatures between 18 to 28 °C.

How Do You Kill Carp Fish?

You’ll see many anglers and many well-known social media influencers out on the water, who catch fish and then put them in a live well or bag to die slowly. This is far from ethical and we owe it to the fish to dispatch them quickly and as painlessly as possible.

We’ll show you three ways to kill a carp with a minimum of discomfort to the fish.

1. Hit on the Head

This is arguably the best method for killing a fish instantly and without any perceived pain or discomfort. It’s over in a fraction of a second and there is no mess to contend with. The only real skill needed is accuracy in where you hit the fish so you don’t end up playing whack-a-mole on the deck of your boat or dock for ten minutes. It should be a ‘one and done’ type of situation.

Small, heavy wooden bats are ideal for hitting fish on the head to cause instant death. We strongly suggest you get one and keep it handy. Make sure it’s big and heavy enough to kill a big carp if that’s what you expect to catch. They are very strong and heavy and a small bat may not do the trick.

To accomplish this, lay the fish flat on a hard surface and wait until it stops flopping around so you can be accurate with the strike. Hit the fish right behind the eye as hard as you can. A snap of the wrist helps to speed up the bat so the first strike is adequate and no more are needed.

If you don’t have a specialized club, you can use any heavy and solid object like a rock. Please aim well and hit hard the first time so you don’t need repeated attempts, and cause the fish more grief than necessary.

2. Bleed it Out by Cutting the Gills

This is probably the most commonly used method of killing fish because it also accomplishes another task – getting rid of the blood from a fish that helps it to taste better when cooked. The faster you can remove the blood, the better.

Use scissors, a knife, or a gloved hand to cut and rip out the gills on the side of the fish. The gills are where the oxygen exchange takes place with the blood, so this will immediately bleed the fish out. You can hang it upside down too to speed the elimination of all blood in the fish. It only takes a minute or so.

3. Cutting the Spinal Cord

The two methods above are better in my opinion, but you can also use this method to kill a fish quickly. There is likely pain involved here, so that’s why it isn’t our preferred method.

You can put a strong, sharp knife to the top of the fish’s head behind the eye and cut completely across the muscle and spinal cord. This will make the body numb and promote blood loss, thereby killing the carp.

This is easier for smaller fish that are softer than carp or other hard fish. Your knife must be sharp and very strong to handle the pressure you’ll need to push to cut the fish this way.


Can I eat Carp that has invaded ponds?

Please make sure you understand the rules of fishing for and harvesting carp in the state and area you are in. Sometimes regional laws are different within a state as well. Carp in a pond can be as good (or bad) as carp in a river or large lake.

Carp have a firm, white, and mild-tasting flesh that may strike you as the perfect table fare. However, most people find the Carp undesirable due to its strong taste and smell and intramuscular bones that can be hard to avoid while eating. 

Do Carp frighten other fish species?

It isn’t so much that carp frighten other fish, but they are in competition for resources like food and space. When carp and bass are brought together in the same freshwater environment, they are competing for space on the bottom which both need for spawning and finding food.

Carp can also change the amount of sediment in the water which can interfere with other fish species. Too many carp species in a particular water body can negatively affect all the present fish species in that water area.

What is the impact of Carp on lakes?

Initially in the USA, carp were brought in to control the overgrowth of plant life in lakes. This was before scientists understood about the ability of introduced species to cause changes (drops) in native species.

In lakes, carp compete for food and space with many other fish species. Carp eat a lot of food and can decimate other fish populations in a short time. 

Wrapping Up

Because carp quickly reproduce and compete with native fish populations for food and space, they can disrupt the evolution that has taken place over millions of years in a matter of decades.

Whatever you choose to do with the carp you catch is up to you. We suggest keeping them and turning them into chum so at least you get some use out of them. We have never eaten carp and don’t expect you to either. Some people feed them to their cats or dogs, and some use them as fertilizer for their gardens. All of these are better alternatives than just throwing the fish up on the bank to rot away.

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Various programs in the U.S. have been trying to rid our rivers, lakes, and streams of carp for decades. Do your part when you can but know that the problem is already well out of control. Next time you hear about an invasive species taking route in your local fishing waters, do something proactively to put a stop to it as soon as possible.

Attacking the problem as quickly as possible is the only way to handle it because once an invasive species is established, it’s nearly impossible to remove it again.

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Photo of author

Clarence "Fish" Fishburne

Fish grew up in the south fishing for catfish, bream, bass and anything else he could get to bite his bait or lure. After college he moved to Maryland and now fishes the Potomac River, Chesapeake Bay and other waters in the surrounding area. He frequently travels to other parts of the country in search of his favorite gamefish, the elusive catfish.

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