The Prussian or Gibel Carp

Are there Gibel Carp in the UK?

In The Crucian Chronicle I described the gibel carp as “a clear and present danger”. Since then, things have moved on, but slightly worryingly.

There have been rumours, so far unconfirmed, that this species (another Carassius, like crucians and goldfish) is present in UK. Fish from one commercial fishery have been DNA tested and have been declared to have some gibel carp genes in them. Though this means that they are probably hybrids and though there is no evidence yet that they are reproducing, it does beg the questions “Where did they come from?” and “Where are the gibel carp parents?”

Why does this matter, you may well ask. The answer is clear enough. We know how rare the crucian had become in this country before its revival over the past few years, thanks to the efforts of the Environment Agency, the Angling Trust, the National Crucian Conservation Project and Chris’s Association of Crucian Anglers. In Europe the crucian situation is much, much worse, largely because of the rapid spread of the Gibel Carp.

In this country, crucians hybridise with common carp and goldfish, which we are beginning to understand. More and more of us can recognise the hybrids and so can manage our fisheries so that they do not happen. In Europe, though, the danger to the crucian of the spread of gibel carp has been taken notice of far too late to stop the possible extinction of the crucian.

The reason for concern is that the gibel carp is incredibly efficient at reproducing. It multiplies in two ways. First, its eggs can be stimulated into life by another cyprinid, without receiving any of the characteristics of that male fish, a sort of cloning of females. This is called gynogenesis, if you want to Google it. The offspring are females, each capable of reproducing in the same way – a sort of fishy Covid 19.

Secondly, male gibel carp do exist and can cross-breed with crucians and presumably common carp and goldfish. The crucian × gibel carp hybrids are very difficult to distinguish from true crucians. Scale counts and fin shapes can be identical. The Swedish crucian record was for some time held by a crucian × gibel carp hybrid.

So on the continent the crucian population is being diminished and corrupted by this highly efficient competitor. Some of you will have caught a fish called “carassio”, perhaps in Russia, Italy, France or Germany; this is almost certainly gibel carp. Try to catch a genuine crucian amongst them if you can!

So we do need to be alert to the gibel carp danger in this country or we, too, may lose our precious crucians. The issue has been raised by the NCCP and the EA have been made aware, so officialdom may be stirred into action. I suppose that it is through the ornamental trade that this fish is most likely to come into the UK and we know what happens. Just one such fish abandoned into a local pond could give rise to a thriving population because of its peculiar means of reproduction. We MUST not let the genie out of the bottle – the parallel with our current coronavirus pandemic are obvious.

Lest you think I am being alarmist, here is a true story. A week before writing this, I Googled ‘Gibel carp for sale’ and found a European firm offering this fish for delivery to many countries, UK amongst them. I wonder if anyone here took up the expensive offer. Encouragingly the website was unavailable two days later. But had any damage already been done?

So please keep your eyes open. Most of the fish suspected of being gibel carp will turn out to be crucian × goldfish hybrids but one day that may not be the case and the plague will be upon us. Nip it in the bud by reporting anything suspicious to any of the organisations mentioned in this article – and keep your fingers crossed. It is up to us to ensure that the UK continues to be like Noah’s Ark, a sanctuary for our beautiful crucian.

A gibel carp
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The below is extracted from the correspondence with Andrew Cooper, who wrote:

"Whilst sorting through some old tackle last week, I came across a copy of the Anglers Mail (3rd November 2015) and, turning to the page 4, noticed a worrying image. The editor, Tim Knight, is pictured with a large, silver-grey goldfish-like fish. I would guess that this is supposed to be an ‘F1’ carp or uncoloured goldfish, but the head shape in particular looks very Gibel-like to me, and (if I’ve counted correctly) there are either 30 or 31 scales along the lateral line. This appears too many for a goldfish and too few for an ‘F1’. There are no details given of this fish, so it is possible that it was caught elsewhere in Europe. I’d be interested in your opinion."

PJR - This fish is a danger to the crucian because it interbreeds with any cyprinid it comes into contact with a spawning time, with huge numbers of female clones being the result, crowding out the true species. Very cleverly, some individuals can also breed in the normal way and can form hybrids with the crucian that are extremely difficult to recognise as such. The Swedish record ‘crucian’ of some years back was in fact just such a hybrid.

I have raised the danger with the NCCP and Angling Trust and Environment Agency and it is at last beginning to be taken seriously. There have been reports of gibel carp being caught here but so far nothing has been confirmed and, as far as I know, no action has been taken.

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