A commercial carp-fishing tournament was held last spring on Kentucky Lake, with some 83,000 pounds of fish netted – which the TWRA said barely made a dent in the carp population.
TWRA fisheries chief Bobby Wilson says silver carp – the invasive species that leaps into the air in large schools when disturbed by boat motors – are increasing at an alarming rate.
This spring a 10-pounder was snagged in Stones River below Percy Priest dam, which means they are infesting the Cumberland River and its lakes and tributaries.
The silver carp compete with baitfish for algae-type food. If they squeeze out the baitfish at the bottom of the food chain, the game fish that feed on the baitfish will be decimated.
Noted Kentucky Lake guide Steve McCadams is among those who are concerned about the worsening situation.
“I have been observing rapid increases in massive schools of silver and Asian carp in this area for several years,” McCadams says. “They cover several acres at a time. I have had reports from commercial fishermen who say the carp are increasing so fast in places that that they completely fill their nets.”
Commercial netting is the only known way to try to control the carp population. The drawback to netting is that the nets don’t discriminate between carp and game fish; they haul in all species.
Because of the nets’ impact on game fish, commercial netting restrictions have been tightened in recent years in Tennessee. But with the explosion in carp numbers, there may be no alternative to allowing more netting.
Wilson says if a commercial market for carp was developed, it would encourage more of the fish to be harvested. Carp can be processed into a variety of things, including pet food.
However, the carp bring only about two cents per pound, which makes harvesting and transporting them unprofitable.
“Unless we have some sort of practical processing system, there’s no incentive for anybody to go out and catch them,” Wilson says. “That’s the biggest problem: what do you do with them when you catch them?”
Since silver carp don’t take conventional baits and lures, about the only way to catch them on hook and line is by grab-hooking. That’s an effective method in tailwaters below dams, and once hooked, they are hard-fighters.
That type of fishing, however, can remove only a tiny fraction of carp in any area and can’t solve the problem. Netting them literally by the tons seems to be the only solution.
McCadams would like to see the TWRA take a more active approach to heading off a potential catastrophe for Tennessee’s billion-dollar sport-fishing industry.
“The TWRA is kicking the can down the road on the silver carp issue,” he says. “I don’t think private enterprise can take care of the problem by itself unless. State and local governments should encourage commercial fisheries to get involved.”
McCadams suggests building carp-processing plants in close proximity to lakes that the carp inhabit. That would make harvesting them more profitable and practical.
Like dodging the carp when they come leaping out of the water, the situation can be ducked only so long before fisherman get smacked hard.