KENTUCKY — Asian carp are a serious problem, and Kentucky is getting creative in dealing with the invasive species.
To show how bad the issue is, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources used “shocking” boats to stun the carp so they’d float to the surface and could be collected and measured. Video shows countless fish leaping after the boat sent an electrical current through the water at Barkley Dam on Tuesday.
Stunning fish with electricity is a common practice when it comes to counting the population or tagging them, the department explained. The stunning does not kill the fish, only temporarily shocks them so they can be counted or caught.
“It’s just to give folks an idea of how many fish we’re dealing with below the dam. We collect and try to distribute to them to buyers,” said Ron Brooks, the department’s fisheries division director.
These carp were stunned, harvested and sold to buyers who make fertilizer, fish bait and even food products for humans.
How Asian carp took over
Don’t feel too bad. Asian carp are an invasive fish that were introduced to the United States by catfish farmers in the ’70s.
They’ve inundated waterways along the Mississippi watershed and the Illinois and Missouri rivers. Carp populations grow at a rapid rate, and all their eating reduces the amount of food for other fish in the ecosystem.
“They were allowed to bring Asian and silver carp in to take care of algal blooms, and they used the fish and sold them to the ethnic markets, like Chinese markets,” Brooks said. The four species of carp hale from Asia, averaging 8 to 10 pounds, but they vary in size, he added.
“What they didn’t realize is that these things would escape the ponds and get into the river system quickly. It took 30 years for them to get there,” Brooks said. “They were brought here for a good reason, but the folks who brought them had no idea that it would cause such a terrible problem.”
Carp are sensitive to noise, so when a boat motor disturbs the water, the fish leap out of the water. Silver carp can jump up to 10 feet high.
The big fish are famous for damaging fishing boats, breaking equipment on board and even injuring boaters.
“They’re the ones you hear about jumping up and hitting people and even breaking bones sometimes,” Brooks said. “They spew blood and mucus as a stress response. If they land in your boat, they’ll be flopping around, and they’ll get slime around.”
Kentucky’s lake tourism is at risk
Kentucky and Tennessee have been working together to get the commercial fishing industry to remove Asian carp. This latest project is aiming to save Kentucky and Barkley lakes, Brooks said.
“The two lakes themselves are very important for tourism for both recreational fishing and boating,” Brooks said. “It’s an industry of over a billion dollars a year for our two states. We’re trying to figure out how to remove mass amounts of Asian carp.”
The wildlife department is working on an experimental project to prevent carp from entering Lake Barkley.
A bio-acoustic fish fence will use bubbles, sound and light to try to redirect the noise-sensitive fish away from the lock chambers.
The barrier has been used in the Western United States and Europe to change the migration patterns of salmon, but it’s never been used on carp, Brooks said.
If the fence works, Brooks expects a lot of other states to seek out their own as a way of controlling the carp.
The other part of the mission is to get commercial fishers to catch the carp and reduce the fish population.
“If we can get a barrier and combine that with the commercial fishing effort, then our ability to get the carp numbers down will be sufficiently enhanced,” Brooks said. “This year, we expect 5 million pounds of Asian carp, at least, to be caught.”
The idea is to entice fishers to the lakes to help support local tourism.
“We’re trying to save the lakes with commercial fishing and use it as a tool to save the tourism industry,” he said.