Asian carp

Jessica Morris, fisheries biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ Critical Species Investigations unit, speaks Saturday at the CFSB Center about Asian carp and what KDFWR is doing to combat the problem.

MURRAY – The annual West Kentucky Boat & Outdoor Show over the weekend featured not only the latest in recreational watercraft and related gear, but many seminars on issues important to area lake enthusiasts.

The event was held in the CFSB Center Friday through Sunday, and seminar topics included everything from marine electronics and tactics for crappie and bass fishing to the decidedly non-fishing-related topic of hunting in Africa. One of Saturday’s seminars covered a subject that has concerned area anglers, scientists and the general public alike: the invasion of Asian carp in Kentucky’s waters.

Jessica Morris, fisheries biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ Critical Species Investigations unit, spoke about Asian carp and what KDFWR is doing to combat the problem. Among the areas she covered were how commercial fishing can help lower the Asian carp population, how a bio-acoustic “fish fence” is now in operation at Lake Barkley Dam and the “Unified-Modified Method” the agency plans to launch next month in Pisgah Bay and Smith Bay.

According to the KDFWR website, Asian carp are an invasive species that are detrimental to native species in Kentucky. They can out-compete native species for resources and some females are capable of producing over 1 million eggs annually, causing their numbers to grow at an alarming rate. Additionally, silver carp pose a danger to boaters due to the jumping behavior they exhibit when startled. As a result, this behavior can put them on a collision course with boaters causing injury to individuals and property. Morris said that of all the different Asian carp species, silver carp are perhaps the most troublesome.

“How do silver carp impact our sport fish? They’re going to compete with them for food,” Morris said. “Silver carp are planktivores; they eat zooplankton and phytoplankton their entire life cycle. While sport fish only need that for a very short period of time, it’s when they’re very vulnerable to other things. So sport fish are eating phytoplankton when they’re young, before they’re large enough to eat other fish. So (carp are) competing with our young sport fish for food and competing with shad for food. Shad are very important as bait fish, and they eat plankton their entire life also. So their entire lives, they’re battling with these silver carp that are trying to eat their food.”

According to the agency’s website, KDFWR has been working with private fish processors, commercial fishermen, state and federal legislators, foreign businesses, and many local, state and federal agencies to foster interest in the removal of Asian carp and promote the 2007 National Asian Carp Management Plan, a plan developed and approved by personnel from many governmental agencies. In 2013, KDFWR initiated the Asian Carp Harvest Program (ACHP) that allows commercial anglers targeting Asian carp to fish in previously restricted areas, including Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. Commercial anglers are required to submit daily harvest logs and allow KDFWR staff to routinely ride along to monitor sport fish by catch. In 2016, commercial anglers harvested over 1.2 million pounds of Asian carp through the ACHP without having any negative effects on sport fish, KDFWR says.

“2013 is when we started the Asian carp program, and the commercial harvest has increased every year since then and increased dramatically in 2019,” Morris said. “With the incentives that the state is offering and the Kentucky Fish Center getting going, there are a lot of factors that are going into the increased commercial harvest. Some of it is just the fisherman getting better at catching the fish. So there’s a lot going on there, and we’re really happy to see that (harvest) number increase to reduce those populations. So with increased commercial harvest and putting deterrents at Barkley lock, we’re really hoping to see an impact to the silver carp populations in Lake Barkley and hopefully Kentucky Lake before long.”

In July, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky gathered with area officials at Barkley Dam to announce the construction of a Bio-Acoustic Fish Fence (BAFF), which creates a curtain of bubbles, and in conjunction with a special sound signal, produces an underwater “wall of sound” designed to deter the passage of fish. According to an Associated Press report, the $7 million, three-year field trial will help wildlife officials determine whether the device effectively keeps Asian carp from entering the lock and moving upstream. The fence became operational in early November.

Morris said her agency’s latest big news is that starting in February, KDFWR will be trying what is known as the Unified-Modified Method in Pisgah Bay and Smith Bay. According to an article on Bassmaster.com, the strategy involves systematically driving the fish into a confined area and then netting them. The harvest technique has long been employed by Chinese commercial fishermen, the story said.

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