Asian carp

Kentucky Official Seeks To End Experimental Carp Program

A Kentucky county leader is asking U.S. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to prevent the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) from bringing an experimental type of Asian carp removal back to Kentucky waters.

Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White originally asked for McConnell’s help in bringing the USGS to Kentucky to try the experimental modified unified method (MUM) of netting off the mouth of certain bays of Kentucky Lake, an impoundment of the Tennessee River, before using sounds and smaller nets to drive the fish into an increasingly smaller area of the bay for capture.

An initial deployment of the method nearly two years ago resulted in the capture and removal of 79,000 pounds of the carp over the course of two to three weeks. 

“To give you a perspective on how much that is, one fisherman can probably do that by himself in seven to 10 days,” White said. “That’s just one carp fisherman, except we’re not paying him anything except buying his fish from him and paying a subsidy.”

Initially, White said he was told to wait for a second attempt at harvesting carp in Kentucky Lake before asking for any changes since the method was new and experimental.

But When USGS officials returned to the bays of Kentucky Lake early this year it was for a depletion study, to determine how well the method was removing the carp. The study removed an additional 38,000 pounds of fish, but USGS officials stressed that fish removal was not the primary goal with the depletion study.

White said the depletion study is not helpful, in his eyes.

“It meant nothing to any of us, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I think they just went out there and collected the money and didn’t really do anything that’s going to help us remove these carp.”

Most of Kentucky’s portion of the $25 million federal allotment for removing the carp from area waterways went toward the depletion study, and White said that is too much of a cost for too little a result.

“Their ability to capture fish has decreased, not increased,” White said in the letter to McConnell, dated September 2. “The MUM has quickly become unpopular as there are numerous areas of needed habitat removed, bays are closed for over a month, and the intentions of the MUM have changed. I do not write this letter lightly as I had high hopes for its success. We do not believe this is working, and the large sums of money being spent could go elsewhere in areas that are more successful in removing large quantities of Asian carp such as subsidy increases for commercial fishermen, additional barriers at dams and aid to processors of carp.”

The habitat removal caused by using the modified unified method is particularly concerning, White said. The nets used in the method pull up sunken tree stumps and man-made fish attractors, such as wooden stake beds and sunken tree tops, along which anglers fish for the once abundant bass and crappie.

White is part of a consortium of leaders who have banded together to fight the encroachment of Asian carp in areas where they have widely reproduced. The non-native fish species jump into the air when the water is disturbed by a passing boat, endanger people working and at play on area rivers and lakes and causing thousands of dollars in damage to equipment.

The fish have also eaten bait fish the region’s game fish depend on for food and caused harm to tourism, which depends on fishing tournaments and recreational fishing, White has said.

The most effective method to date of removing the fish and restoring game fish populations appears to be from providing a 10-cents-a-pound, state-funded subsidy for anglers who catch the fish and sell them at a nearby processing center, White said. The fish can then be frozen and sent overseas for human consumption or processed into pet food, fertilizers and other products.

“You see, $1 million paid to commercial fishermen as an additional 5 cent subsidy per pound, on top of the state subsidy, would attract more commercial fishermen and harvest 20 million pounds of Asian Carp, without habitat removal,” White said. “Compare this to two years of the MUM, which cost over $2 million for the harvest of 100,000 pounds.”

He said he has also worked with one commercial fisherman trying a new method of seining, using special nets, that has great potential for success.

“He’s doing a great job with it,” he said, noting that the commercial angler caught 53,000 pounds of fish recently in a 24-hour period.

“I’ve begged them, please do more to help our commercial fishermen,” he said of his talks with legislators, which led to the initial $25 million in federal funding for fish eradication in areas where they are already abundant. “If it wasn’t for our commercial fishermen, we’d still be in the mess we were three years ago. They got completely left out of this first round of money, and that’s inexcusable.”

White said he notices the difference commercial fishermen have made in the carp population while in his own boat on Barkley Lake, an impoundment of the Cumberland River that crosses through western Kentucky and northwest Tennessee. The fish seldom jump in his boat anymore, he said. The sonar system on his boat shows schools of the carp are still there, but not in such high numbers, he said.

He also has hopes for the bio-acoustic fish fence (BAFF) being tested at Barkley Dam. The BAFF uses a curtain of bubbles, lights and noises crossing the lock approach to deter fish from entering and moving from the river and into the lake. During the study period, the BAFF is turned on for a week and off for a week, while tagged fish are monitored to chart their movement through the lock. When on, preliminary results suggest Asian carp are not moving through the lock 90 percent of the time, White said, adding that creates the possibility of adding more of the barriers to prevent carp from expanding their habitat further upriver in the Cumberland and Tennessee watersheds.

While White says he wants to give McConnell and other legislators credit for trying any method possible to remove the fish from the region, he said now that more is known about what is working, he believes he wouldn’t be doing his duty if he didn’t ask for taxpayers’ money to be spent as effectively as possible.

Of the MUM, he said, “We can clearly see it’s not working, and now we’re asking to do something different, and I think that’s good government.”

White thanked McConnell for his efforts fighting against the Asian carp invasion so far.

“We are thankful you have worked so hard to help our efforts in the carp battle,” he said in his letter. “You have made this a priority, and it has changed everything. I hope you will consider this issue and join us in asking the USGS not to return to Kentucky waters using the MUM this winter.”

Since sending the letter, White said he had heard back from McConnell’s office that McConnell’s office would be contacting the USGS for a response. He has heard nothing further.