Asian carp

Asian Carp Eradication Funding Restored In Final Kentucky Budget

Kentucky’s final budget restored $5.5 million in boat registration funding to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to continue the state’s Asian carp eradication efforts for another year.

Gov. Andy Beshear’s initial budget proposal swept the funding. When the state raised the cost of boat registration two years ago, KDFWR officials had said it was to allow additional money to go toward carp eradication. However, Beshear, who was elected in November, initially said the boating funds were never earmarked for that specific effort and directed the fees into the general fund in his budget proposal to help balance the budget.

That set up a confrontation between Beshear, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled Kentucky House of Representatives. Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White, a Republican and a leading voice on carp eradication efforts in Kentucky’s waterways, urged his constituents to call legislators to ask for the funding to be restored. Ultimately, it was in the one-year, limited-spending budget the Kentucky General Assembly passed earlier this month. It survived in the final version despite the governor vetoing 18 other sections of the budget and the General Assembly overriding those vetoes the final day of the legislative session April 15.

White had said earlier that if the funding was not restored, he expected the state would be unable to maintain a subsidy for each pound of carp commercial fishermen harvest in Kentucky lakes and rivers.

He added that it would also affect funding for the Kentucky Fish Center, which auctions the fish to processors, and limit the availability of matching funds necessary to take advantage of federal grants.

Additionally, he said, the lack of funding would prevent the continued operation of the experimental bio-acoustic fish fence installed just downstream of Barkley Dam in the Cumberland River.

“Those crews hired to do research on whether the barrier is working and keeping it going will no longer be possible,” he said at the time. “That barrier is designed to keep the carp out of our lakes while the subsidy keeps commercial fishermen out there pulling them from the lakes.  Folks, we can’t continue our fight if this money is swept from Fish and Wildlife.  It was collected from boaters with a purpose, and now the money is being removed for something else. That’s not right, and I need your help to fix this.”

White indicated that his constituents rallied and spread the word, putting pressure on legislators to restore the funding in the final budget.

“We were able to share it effectively with media and on our War On Carp Facebook pages and radio and TV,” he said. “When people became aware that the money they were told was being collected from them for a certain purpose had at the last minute changed, people were very upset.  They started calling Frankfort and that made a huge difference.  Also, the Republicans in the House and Senate were against raiding this fund also.”

However, despite the budgeted funding, White said, the COVID-19 pandemic has created some issues for commercial fishermen interested in harvesting Asian carp. Only one processor remained open to receive the catch, he said.

Carp eradication efforts have been ongoing, especially in Kentucky Lake.

In February, federal, state and local officials joined forces for an experimental netting and fish pumping method to remove Asian carp from two bays of Kentucky Lake using what they call the modified unified method. They began by using 2,500 feet of block nets, each reaching 20 to 30 feet deep, to cordon off the mouth of the bay. They then set parallel nets, creating lanes for the invasive fish species. They pushed fish from each lane, eventually forcing the carp into a smaller area, where they were seined, said Ron Brooks, aquatic nuisance species program director for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

The netting, along with side-scan sonar, electrical shocking and sound from underwater speakers, are designed to target the invasive Asian carp while allowing native game fish to swim free. The technique was developed by U.S. Geological Survey research fish biologist Duane Chapman, modified from a traditional netting method used in China, where the carp are a popular cuisine. Organizers also experimented with using a marine fish pump brought in by the non-profit group Silver Fin to suck the carp into totes set on a large boat before taking the catch to market for use in making pet foods and fertilizer.

KDFWR’s fisheries division announced the results of the modified unified method experiment April 22 in an updated post on the agency’s website, spokesman Kevin Kelly said. The agency said the method showed enough promise to expand and repeat it.

“With adjustments, the 2020 efforts revealed good potential for the Modified Unified Method to be successful in Kentucky waters, and possibly throughout the Mississippi River Basin,” the post said.

That was despite challenges to the collection efforts in Smith and Pisgah bays that were compounded by temperatures in the high 40s.

“Water temperatures exceeded norms for February and enabled many carp to leap block nets and seines, but many fish were pushed into corrals in both bays despite the carps’ agility,” KDFWR posted. “The fish were successfully surrounded by seines, but negotiating seines over very complex substrates full of snags, both natural and manmade, proved difficult. The structures often tore the seines or caused lead lines to rise, resulting in substantial fish escapement. In spite of the challenges, 69,228 pounds of fish, mostly Asian carp, were harvested from the two bays with four seine hauls. Very few sport fish were seined, and most were released unharmed. Additional seine hauls which would have increased the total harvest were not possible due to other time constraints.”

The post added that future research will examine adjustments in net designs to prevent more carp from escaping as well as adjusting and more efficiently using manpower. KDFWR officials also plan to identify and prepare ideal harvest areas before the next harvest experiment.

“The potential for this system to be useful for mass removal of Asian carp in reservoir bays and in other lakes remains very high,” the post stated.