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Tackling Invasive Carp in Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Over the last two decades, Invasive Carp have migrated into the Cumberland and Tennessee river systems from the Mississippi River.

They made their way into the state by swimming through locks and dams when barge traffic moved through.

Besides taking up the resources and food that our native fish need, the jumping type can be dangerous to boaters.

There are four species of Invasive Carp (previously known as Asian Carp).

Silver Carp

“First, there is the Silver Carp,” said Cole Harty, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency Aquatic Nuisance Species Coordinator. “It’s probably the species that is one of the four that is of the highest concern for us. These fish would be five or six pounds out on the reservoir. And these are the ones that jump.”

Silver Carp jumping near Barkley Dam

Bighead Carp

Then there’s the Bighead Carp, which can grow to more than one hundred pounds. They don’t jump, but they do filter out a lot of the resources that our native fish need.

Bighead Carp

Grass Carp

A third Invasive Carp are the Grass Carp. Those have been most commonly used in water management. But, the TWRA said they eat aquatic vegetation that usually helps cover sportfish like Largemouth Bass and Crappie, which is a cause for concern.

TWRA added Grass Carp can be used in private lakes and ponds as long as they are sterile, but they are finding more sterile variety in the wild.

Grass Carp (TWRA photo)

Black Carp

TWRA said Black Carp were first introduced to help control snails in commercial catfish ponds.

“Black carp are a significant concern here, as well, because they are molluscivorous,” Harty pointed out. “They eat snails and mollusks. Tennessee has one of the most diverse populations of mussels and snails.”

Black Carp (TWRA photo)

Harty explained what can be done to help eradicate the Invasive Carp.

First, they are trying to keep fish from swimming through the locks at the dams. Bio-acoustic fish fences are being developed. These emit flashing lights, bubbles, and sounds that will deter the fish from swimming through the locks.

The first was installed at Barkley Dam by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey, the Corps of Engineers, and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Studies of its effectiveness will be completed by 2023. Preliminary data is already showing promise.

Bio-Acoustic Fence

The other means to get these fish out of our waters is the Tennessee Carp Harvest Incentive Program for commercial fishermen. It was launched in September of 2018.

“Since the start of that program, commercial fishermen have removed over 15 million pounds of carp from Tennessee and Kentucky waters of Kentucky and Barkley Lakes,” Harty said.

You might wonder, what can they do with those carp?

“A lot of people hear the word ‘carp’ and they think like a four-letter word, and they think it’s going to be gross, not edible,” Harty explained.  “But, these Silver and Bighead Carp really are pretty edible. They’ve got a white flaky flesh. It’s good on the table.”

Between barriers, removal, and maybe a few carp dinners in between, the hope is to get these fish out of our waters and keep them out.

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