As Asian carp continue their rapid spread through the state’s waterways, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is investing $500,000 to combat the invasive species threat.
That’s the amount the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission recently approved for the TWRA’s carp-harvesting incentive programs.
The TWRA will promote in-state carp processing plants to make it profitable for commercial fishermen to harvest large numbers of the fish.
The only effective way to remove significant numbers of Asian carp from a specific body of water is by netting them. At present netting is not practical for commercial fishermen because there are no ready markets for the catch.
Once the TWRA’s proposed processing plants are operating, it is believed markets will open up for the fish, perhaps as pet food or fertilizer. Asian carp are also being promoted for human consumption.
The TWRA’s goal is to reduce the large schools of Asian carp in Kentucky Lake and the Cumberland River. In recent years their numbers have soared into the millions, and they are invading more and more waterways.
Asian carp include both the Bighead and Silver sub-species. The latter are the ones that leap from the water when disturbed by a boat motor. The fish can weigh as much as 20 pounds and when one strikes a boater or skier traveling at a fast speed, serious injuries can result. One boater suffered facial fractures when he collided with one of the leaping fish.
In addition to creating such safety hazards, the invasive carp compete with native fish species in the food chain. Asian carp do on not compete directly with game fish for food since they do not feed on minnows or other small fish. However, they compete indirectly by feeding on plankton and other micro-matter on which minnows subsist.
If Asian carp deplete the plankton and micro-matter, small bait fish will vanish and larger game fish will have no forage. They will eventually vanish too.
Asian carp arrived in Tennessee from Arkansas during floods on the Mississippi River in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The TWRA first detected substantial numbers of Silver Carp in the Mississippi River in the early 2000s.
Since then, they have spread rapidly in the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers and reservoirs. They are also found in the Stones River and Duck River.
Since they don’t eat baitfish, worms or insects, Asian carp are almost impossible to catch by sport fishermen, aside from snagging. There is no size limit or creel limit.
Small Bighead and Silver carp closely resemble threadfin shad and gizzard shad, which are popular live baits. The TWRA cautions fishermen who catch their own bait to make sure they don’t accidentally get small Asian carp mixed in with the shad species and transport them to new waters.
It is illegal to dump any live bait into the water because an invasive species might have been inadvertently mixed in with the bait fish. The TWRA instructs bait fishermen to dump leftover bait on the bank where it will be quickly cleaned up by birds and other scavengers.
Once Asian carp invade a waterway there is no known way to get rid of them; the only thing that that can be done is to try to contain their numbers and their spread.
Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at [email protected]