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Introducing Carp Into North Dakota, 1885


It seemed like a good idea in the 1880s to introduce the common carp into Dakota’s lakes, rivers and ponds. After all, carp have been highly valued in Europe and Asia for centuries. Originating in Asia, carp were cultivated as a valuable food source as early as 300 B.C. Carp were also native to Eastern Europe, where they were considered tasty. After carp were transplanted in England, Izaak Walton praised the fish as the “Queen of Rivers” in his classic book, The Compleat Angler.

The propagation of foreign carp in the U.S. began in 1831 and when the U.S. Fish Commission began in 1871. Its philosophy was to “stock any promising species of fish in any accessible body of water.”

The national fish commission labeled carp a “desirable species” as early as 1874, and began to bring the fish to many states so that recent immigrants could get plenty of carp in local fish-markets.

And so, in 1885, a U.S. government fish railway car arrived in Bismarck; and on this date, “a large number of carp were transferred to the brooks and ponds of Burleigh County.”

Anyone could have some carp free-of-charge if they would plant them in nearby ponds and creeks.

The Bismarck Tribune called carp a valuable gift to Dakota, because they were so hardy, and able to live even in stagnant water. Giving away free carp seemed to be a wise and commendable action.

A number of people showed up to get some. John Yegen took forty for placement in the creek that flowed through his farmland. J.A. Fields put 20 carp in Apple Creek. John Davidson kept 20 in a glass jar for the winter, planning to release the carp in springtime. The previous year, W.F. Steele had gotten a pailful of carp to pour into Lake Etta near the town of Steele. In 1887, 110 North Dakotans accepted carp for their local waters.

However, the carp proved to be a bad mistake, for they rapidly proliferated. Their eating habits roiled the waters, and carp displaced more desirable fish. Some people swore that carp meat tasted muddy.

The U.S. Fish Commission stopped distributing carp in the 1890s, but it was too late to stop the spread. Soon carp were designated as “rough fish” to be caught without limits, in modern times becoming the “biggest aquatic nuisance” in North Dakota’s lakes and reservoirs.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Carp for the Brooks,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, November 6, 1885.

Steven R. Hoffbeck, “’Without Careful Consideration;’ Why Carp Swim in Minnesota’s Waters,” Minnesota History, vol. 57, no. 6 (Summer 2001): 305-320.

“The Playful Carp,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, November 13, 1885.

“More Fish for the Slope,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, November 27, 1885.

“Capitol City Chips,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, November 28, 1884, p. 8.

“Commission Car” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, October 21, 1887, p. 6.

“More Fish,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, August 17, 1894, p. 5.

Ron Wilson, “ANS Education Enforcement Ongoing,” North Dakota Outdoors, vol. LXXV, no. 9 (May 2013).