The common carp or European carp (Cyprinus carpio) is a widespread freshwater fish of eutrophic waters in lakes and large rivers in Europe and Asia. The native wild populations are considered vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN),but the species has also been domesticated and introduced (see aquaculture) into environments worldwide, and is often considered a destructive invasive species, being included in the list of the world’s 100 worst invasive species. It gives its name to the carp family, Cyprinidae.
The annual tonnage of common carp produced in China alone, not to mention the other cyprinids, exceeds the weight of all other fish, such as trout and salmon, produced by aquaculture worldwide. Roughly three million tonnes are produced annually, accounting for 14% of all farmed freshwater fish in 2002. China is by far the largest commercial producer, accounting for about 70% of carp production. Carp is eaten in many parts of the world both when caught from the wild and raised in aquaculture.
In Central Europe, it is a traditional part of a Christmas Eve dinner. Hungarian fisherman’s soup, a specially prepared fish soup of carp alone or mixed with other freshwater fish, is part of the traditional meal for Christmas Eve in Hungary along with stuffed cabbage and poppy seed roll and walnut roll. A traditional Czech Christmas Eve dinner is a thick soup of carp’s head and offal, fried carp meat (sometimes the meat is skinned and baked instead) with potato salad or boiled carp in black sauce. A Slovak Christmas Eve dinner is quite similar, with soup varying according to the region and fried carp as the main dish. Also in Austria, parts of Germany and Poland, a fried carp is one of the traditional dishes on Christmas Eve.
In Western Europe, the carp is cultivated more commonly as a sport fish, although there is a small market for it as a food fish. Carp are mixed with other common fish to make gefilte fish, popular in Jewish cuisine. Common carp are extremely popular with anglers in many parts of Europe, and their popularity as quarry is slowly increasing among anglers in the United States (though they are still generally considered pests and destroyed in most areas of the U.S.), and southern Canada. Carp are also popular with spear, bow, and fly fishermen.
In the U.S., carp is mostly ignored as a food fish. Almost all U.S. shoppers bypass carp, due to a preference for filleted fish as opposed to cooking whole. Carp have smaller intramuscular bones called y-bones, which makes them a whole fish species for cooking.
The Romans farmed carp and this pond culture continued through the monasteries of Europe and to this day. In China, Korea and Japan, carp farming took place as early as the Yayoi Period (c. 300 BC – AD 300).