Biologists from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife use electrofishing boats to catch Silver Carp in the Lake Barkley Dam tailwaters. (Photo: Tennessee Aquarium)
Latest News on the Asian Carp Invasion
by Richard Simms
Biologists haven’t documented any impact on game fish
Representatives from eleven different agencies convened online recently to update the latest status in the battle against Asian carp.
Asian carp were first brought to the United States to be raised in artificial holding ponds to be raised and sold commercially. There are four species including bighead carp, silver carp, black carp and grass carp. All are from the Yangtze and Amur River systems in China. As so often happens, floods came allowing the carp to escape into the Mississippi River. Habitat conditions were such that the fish could spawn successfully and they soon began spreading into every major waterway feeding into the Mississippi River, including our own Tennessee River.
Biologists with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency confirmed a silver carp had been found in Chickamauga Lake far up the Tennessee River in October 2019. However, since that time there have been no additional sightings or confirmations, in spite of TWRA efforts to sample the lake specifically for Asian carp.
In the recent briefing, Cole Harty, the Aquatic Nuisance Species Coordinator for TWRA said, “I am not surprised that there have been no additional confirmed sightings or collections. Indications are that any Asian carp present in the upper Tennessee River are very few in number. The scarcity of fish that may be in these reaches, combined with the size of our reservoirs and ability of Asian carp to avoid sampling gears, makes likelihood of detection low.”
Asian carp have invaded Kentucky Lake in West Tennessee in large numbers. Besides the one Chickamauga report, Chris Greene, Alabama Chief of Fisheries, said Wednesday, the leading edge of silver carp in the Tennessee River system is in Pickwick Reservoir.
“I am not aware of any confirmed sightings in Wilson Reservoir, but we did have a confirmed silver carp captured by a commercial angler in Wheeler Reservoir,” Greene said.
Last November the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service installed an experimental “bio-acoustic fish fence” (BAFF) at Barkley Dam on the Cumberland River.
However, Jessica Morris with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources said that various problems, including a lightning strike and COVID-19 delays, have prevented the BAFF from functioning properly until just recently. The experimental project is slated to last three years and it seems doubtful that any additional barriers will be placed elsewhere on the Tennessee River until solid results come in from Barkley Dam
Mike Butler, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, said , “There is a sense of urgency on when we can get barriers put it.”
TVA is conducting an Environmental Assessment to determine the feasibility of installing barriers at TVA dams, IF the need, and funding, arise.
“The [Environmental Assessment] TVA is doing is critical,” said Butler. “The fact they’re being proactive is really, really important. however, nobody currently has the funding to put the barriers in right now.”
One of TWF’s missions is to lobby for additional funding from Congress.
Butler said so far, they have calculated at least a $3 million negative impact on the economy surrounding Kentucky Lake as a result of Asian carp. Fishermen constantly moan and groan about how the carp have negatively impacted the fishing on the lake.
Harty, however, says so far TWRA has not been able to document a falloff in fishing success rates.
“We do not have hard data that would explicitly quantify any negative impact to game fish populations caused by Asian carp,” said Harty. “It is possible that Asian carp are contributing to below average fisheries and the observed decreased fishing pressure, but current trends at Kentucky Lake still fall within historical ranges. It is common for reservoir fisheries to cycle and many environmental factors, not just presence of Asian carp, influence that cycle.”
TWRA initiated the Asian Carp Harvest Incentive Program (ACHIP) in 2018, providing money to encourage commercial fishermen (mostly using nets) to harvest Asian carp in Kentucky, Barkley, Cheatham, and Old Hickory lakes. They say to date commercial fishermen have harvested 3.4 million pounds of Asian carp from the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.
What can fishermen do?
Butler asks anglers, boaters and other concerned citizens to encourage additional funding for management and control of Asian carp. You can do say on the TWF web page or perhaps similar pages in you8r state.
Don’t move baitfish. When they are small it is very difficult to tell the difference between young Asian carp and native shad. In West Tennessee it is illegal for anglers to catch baitfish and move them from one body of water to another. It is still legal in East Tennessee, but discouraged.
TWRA encourages bowfishers and bowfishing tournaments to consider a carp-only format. In 2018 TWRA partnered with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to host a carp-only bowfishing tournament. During the 12-hour event 81 boats harvested 17,000 lbs. of Asian carp, predominantly silver carp.
Participants in the recent briefing included:
– Thom Benson, Tennessee Aquarium (Moderator)
– Allan Brown, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
– Greg Conover, Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association (MICRA)
– Mark Rogers and Duane Chapman, U.S. Geological Survey
– Jessica Morris, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
– Cole Harty, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
– Chris Greene, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
– Larry Bull, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks
– Tim Higgs, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
– Dennis Baxter, TVA manager River and Reservoir Compliance
– Mike Butler, Tennessee Wildlife Federation