Sunday, November 17, 2013

(LUKE) Please Come Get Your Carp

“In 1877, the U.S. Fish Commission imported common carp from Germany and for the next two decades the agency began stocking and distributing the species as food fish throughout much of the United States and its territories”.1 For two decades, the federal government disseminated up to 350,000 carp per year.2 “There was at this time a fever of enthusiasm for carp…throughout all parts of the United States.”3

“In 1880, the carp bug bit Utah, and a Deputy United States Fish Commissioner promised to transport free carp to Utah as early as 1881. The commissioner required interested parties to fill out a written application, pay for the shipping container and cover freight expenses. The price per fish ran between 35 and 85 cents, depending on size and how many fish fit into the container.”4

Several articles were printed preparing people to care for carp. One paper ran a lengthy, two-part feature on properly constructing a carp pond.5 Another article discussed the best types of water, soil, and plants for the fish.6
As many as 23,000 carp were delivered to Utah per annum. Most were put in private ponds, but over 10,000 were intentionally stocked in public waters.7 As an interesting side note, the fish were not stocked in Utah Lake or the river that feeds it. Instead, “a spring flood washed some of the fish out of” a private pond, and they made their way to the lake.8

The carp quickly overtook Utah Lake, severely straining native fishes like the June Sucker. A fisherman lamented in 1894 that if a law was passed to stop seining (fishing with nets) in Utah Lake, the lake would be filled “again with suckers and chubs, the same as it was years ago when no imported fish could exist in Utah Lake… The lake is now well stocked with carp… There are millions of them and they have come to stay… The carp are twice as good as the suckers.”9

For a time, Utahns were a carp-loving people. Some of my ancestors got in on the craze. In October, 1890, the newspaper reported, “We propose to commence the annual distribution of German carp as soon as practicable after November 1st, and…we expect to be able to comply with all reasonable requests.”10

My ancestors were among those with “reasonable requests” that year.
Salt Lake Herald, 26 Nov 1890,
Alexander Gillespie Adamson, my great-
great-great grandfather

Alexander and Elizabeth Adamson were from Lanarkshire, Scotland. The males in their families started mining coal around age 8. Elizabeth was a maid. Alex and Elizabeth immigrated separately to Utah in the mid-1860s and were married in Salt Lake City.

In Utah, the Adamsons could give their children a future better than coal mining. Alex farmed and did construction projects. The family grew their own produce.11 And, apparently, they raised carp, too. They would likely have constructed a pond specifically for that purpose, as many other Americans did at that time.

His wife Elizabeth McGill Adamson,
my great-great-great grandmother

By 1899, however, public sentiment about carp was changing. One newspaper article reported that when the US government was distributing the fish, “a great many Utahns were among those who received allotments for their private waters. It was said that in Germany carp was highly esteemed and…would become a very valuable factor among the pond fishes of the United States. But when the testing and tasteing time came, they were found to be an inferior fish,…and many are now turning their noses up at them.”12

Their son George Hunter
Adamson, my great-
great grandfather
A Utah State senator spoke out against State Fish Commissioner A. M. Musser, declaring that, as “Musser had introduced carp into the waters of Utah, he should be compelled to reimburse the State.”13 Musser rebutted that carp were “highly recommended,” and were in fact sent by the federal government “on the thousand and one applications for them by the people of Utah.”14

Carp have been further maligned over the years as “trash fish.” Currently, a tax-funded multi-million dollar government project is removing them from Utah Lake at the cost of 20¢ per pound—about three times more than they originally cost to purchase—all for the sake of that "inferior" native, the June Sucker.15

Line of descent:
Alexander Gillespie ADAMSON (1841 - 1902) is your 3rd great grandfather
George Hunter ADAMSON (1880 - 1954) son of Alexander Gillespie ADAMSON
Jennie Constance Adamson (1903 - 1975) daughter of George Hunter ADAMSON
Zenda Constance Lang [my grandmother] (1924 - 2005) daughter of Jennie Constance Adamson

2 - The German Carp in the United States (Google eBook), Leon Jacob Cole, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1905, p. 547
3 - The German Carp in the United States (Google eBook), Leon Jacob Cole, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1905, p. 548
5 - The Daily Enquirer Newspaper 1887-07-19 vol. 11 no. 56 and 1887-07-22 vol. 11 no. 57
6 - “About Carp,” The Daily Enquirer Newspaper 1887-11-15 vol. 11 no. 89
7 - “Pisciculture in Utah,” Deseret Evening News, 2 Jan 1891,
9 - “About Seining,” The Daily Enquirer, 24 Jan 1894,
10 - “Carp, Etc.,” Deseret Evening News, 10 Oct 1890,
11 – Adamson family information is from “A Compilation of Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes: Alexander Gillespie Adamson and Family,” compiled by Nathan W. Adamson, Jr., published Salt Lake City, 1996.
12 - “All About Fish,” Deseret Evening News, 3 Feb 1899,
13 - “An Attack on Mr. A. M. Musser,” Deseret Evening News, 14 Mar 1899,
14 - “An Attack on Mr. A. M. Musser,” Deseret Evening News, 14 Mar 1899,

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