Summary 1.?There is much concern that filter-feeding Asian carp will invade the Laurentian Great Lakes and deplete crucial plankton resources. We developed bioenergetic models, using parameters from Asian carp and other fish species, to explore the possibility that planktonic food resources are insufficient to support the growth of silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) and bighead carp (H. nobilis) in the Great Lakes. 2.?The models estimated basic metabolic requirements of silver and bighead carp under various body sizes, swimming speeds and reproductive stages. These requirements were then related to planktonic food resources and environmental temperature to predict when and where silver and bighead carp may survive in the Great Lakes, and how far they may travel. 3.?Parameter values for respiration functions were derived experimentally in a coordinated study of silver and bighead carp, while consumption parameters were obtained from the literature on silver carp. Other model parameters lacking for Asian carp, such as those for egestion and excretion, were obtained from the literature on other fish species. 4.?We found that full-sized bighead carp required 61.0 kJ d?1 just to maintain their body mass at 20 °C, approximately equivalent to feeding in a region with 255 ?g L?1 macrozooplankton (dry) or 10.43 ?g L?1 chlorophyll a. Silver carp energy requirements were slightly higher. 5.?When applied to various habitats in the Great Lakes, our results suggest that silver and bighead carp will be unable to colonise most open-water regions because of limited plankton availability. However, in some circumstances, carp metabolism at lower temperatures may be low enough to permit positive growth even at very low rations. Positive growth is even more likely in productive embayments and wetlands, and the modelled swimming costs in some of these habitats suggest that carp could travel 1 km d?1 without losing biomass. 6.?The simulation (and firmly hypothetical) results from this modelling study suggest when and where Asian carp could become established in the Great Lakes. Given the potential consequences to Great Lakes ecosystems if these filter feeders do prove capable of establishing reproducing populations, efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes must not be lessened. However, we do encourage the use of bioenergetic modelling in a holistic approach to assessing the risk of Asian carp invasion in the Great Lakes region.