Asian carp

Tennessee Agencies Form Carp Advisory Commission

The state of Tennessee is moving forward with several efforts to combat Asian carp.

Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order September 23 creating the Tennessee Asian Carp Advisory Commission, and the organization had its first meeting December 8.

The commission is formed “Whereas, Tennessee waterways are experiencing an invasion of Asian carp species, which threaten native species and other aquatic life and present a risk to persons and property engaged in commercial and recreational water-related activities,” according to the language in the executive order.
The commission is chaired by Sen. Mike Bell and also includes Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) members and appointees from the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, Department of Economic and Community Development, Department of Tourist Development, Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Although the TWRA and its partners have worked diligently to monitor the prevalence of the invasive fish species, which can do harm to people and equipment on the rivers when they jump out of the water, the commission’s creation is another step forward, said Frank Fiss, TWRA chief of fisheries.

Past efforts have targeted finding large populations of the fish, tagging them and monitoring their movements using an acoustic array as well as incentives for fish processors who buy the carp from commercial fishermen at a guaranteed minimum price.

“We’ve gotten 5 million pounds out of Kentucky and Barkley lakes over the past two years through that program,” Fiss said.

The incentive program helps to reduce carp populations to prevent faster upstream spread, he said.

Lack of funding largely has prevented installation of deterrents or barriers along the Tennessee and Cumberland river systems, but Fiss said the hope is the commission can help generate support for efforts to combat the Asian carp’s spread. Potential barriers could include those like the bioacoustic fish fence under study as part of a pilot project at Barkley Dam, electrical barriers like those in northern Illinois or a system that temporarily floods the locks with an increase in carbon dioxide to keep fish away when the locks are in use.

Economic Impact Study

After hearing from Fiss regarding ongoing efforts, one of the steps the commission took at its first meeting was unanimously approving moving forward with having Dr. Bill Fox, an economist at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, doing an economic impact study on how the spread of Asian carp throughout Tennessee could alter the state’s economy and natural resources. The approval was a preliminary step, and no contract has yet been signed.

Much of the work to stop the spread of Asian carp has been focused in Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri, but with the carp abundant in the waters of Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, both of which extend into northwest Tennessee, it is imperative for the state to do what it can to prevent the fish from moving farther upstream in the Cumberland and Tennessee river systems, disrupting native game fish species and doing harm to tourism and recreation as well, Fiss said.

Surveys so far have shown the fish are slowly spreading out from Kentucky Lake, an impoundment of the Tennessee River. Pickwick Lake, the next upstream reservoir of the Tennessee, also now has an abundant population, where biologists are able to catch Asian carp with some ease, Fiss said. No carp have been reported in Wilson Lake, but they are likely there in small amounts, he said. That’s because one carp was reported and documented even further upstream in Wheeler Lake in March 2017, a bighead carp even further upstream in Guntersville Lake in spring 2020, and some commercial anglers harvested suspected bighead carp two or three years ago in Nickajack Lake. Even in Tennessee’s farthest upstream impoundment, Chickamauga Lake, one photo from an angler taken in October 2019 appeared to show an Asian carp.

However, “The abundance is extremely low upstream of the dam at Wilson,” Fiss said.

TWRA has partnered with several state and federal agencies to advise the Tennessee Valley Authority on where to consider placing barriers to prevent the carp from swimming upstream through locks. These recommendations will be considered by TVA to complete a programmatic environmental assessment of deterrents at all of its locks and dams on the Tennessee River. The hope is to prepare for the possibility of federal funds becoming available for construction of barriers so that if funds are released, construction can begin more quickly. TVA anticipates the first phases of the assessment process to be completed in early 2021.

Also, TWRA is for the first time increasing its workforce with new employees specifically focused on Asian carp eradication efforts. Fiss said offers were extended to four new employees this week, and he expects them to hire on in January. TWRA is also extending its focus on the carp beyond the Tennessee and Cumberland through a project in 2021 at Reelfoot Lake, where carp can swim into the lake from the Mississippi River when the area floods. The Reelfoot project involves increased monitoring of the carp and developing a program to incentivize increased carp harvest.