Kentucky incentivizes carp harvest

PADUCAH, Ky. – Teamed with a broad coalition, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) swiftly is implementing a strategy to minimize the Asian carp threat to sport fisheries in Kentucky and Barkley Lakes.

"The images of carp jumping into Elite anglers' boats during last summer's Kentucky Lake tournament really started a snowball that is gaining momentum," said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director. 

"The War on Carp coalition is growing and making connections and increasing awareness among politicians in the affected states and in Washington D.C. And it is starting to get the financial backing it will take to fight back the invasion."

Until a "silver bullet" is developed that will selectively kill and/or sterilize the invaders, commercial harvest is the best weapon to protect fisheries, as well as slow carp migration up the Ohio River, according to Ron Brooks, Kentucky Fisheries Director. That means facilitating harvest and processing, as well as incentivizing commercial fishermen to redirect their efforts from native species to Asian carp.

And that's just what Kentucky and its partners have done. This fall, the state awarded the first of what anglers and conservationists hope will be several contracts to intensify harvest effort on silver and bighead carp. The innovative program provides a guaranteed market, as well as ensures that commercials will profit.

“The Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet has worked tirelessly to develop a workable solution for mitigating Asian carp,” said Gov. Matt Bevin. “This is a great example of government partnering with the private sector to create a commonsense, market-based solution. It will provide commercial anglers with new opportunities, while also removing this invasive species from Kentucky’s waterways.”

The first state-subsidized fish house will be the Kentucky Fish Center LLC in Wickliffe, and it will be operated by Two Rivers Fishery, a fish processing company already based there. It will buy fish caught in Kentucky and Barkley Lakes, as well as other state waters, from the commercials.

With both domestic and international buyers as the customers, the Center then will conduct daily auctions, with oversight by KDFWR.

The agency has pledged up to $4 million in loans and incentives for the fish house and commercial fishermen. The department will pay commercial anglers an incentive of 5 cents per pound for their catch, supplementing the fish house’s guaranteed 14 cents per pound purchase price. In the past, common price for Asian carp has been 17 cents a pound, and buyers haven't been guaranteed.

“Commercial anglers currently harvest 2 million pounds of Asian carp from Kentucky’s waters each year,” said Ron Brooks, Kentucky Fisheries Director. “We believe this program can increase that catch to 20 million pounds across the state within the next five years.”

He added that only a few commercial anglers operate on Kentucky and Barkley Lakes now, but these incentives should bring in more and help knock back the population of Asian carp now competing with bass, crappie and other native species for forage and habitat.

“We believe this will increase the amount of Asian carp coming out of those lakes to 5 million pounds per year,” Brooks said. “A sustained harvest of this amount will significantly reduce the impact of Asian carp on these nationally-recognized crappie lakes.”

Additionally, Kentucky partnered with the Tennessee Valley Authority to open an ice house below Kentucky Dam.

"The free ice is available to commercial fishermen targeting Asian carp in Kentucky and Barkley lakes, and it is an incentive to get more fishermen working the two reservoirs," said Wade White of the War on Carp coalition.

"Each day, there is enough ice produced to cool 70,000 pounds of Asian carp harvested for the processors." 

The Kentucky strategy includes a $734,000 secured loan for fixed assets to assist with the start-up of the fish house. Performance-based incentives of $570,000 to $700,000 a year will be awarded if the escalating yearly harvest goals of 5 to 20 million pounds of fish are met. The secured loan would be forgiven in 2024, if the 20-million pound goal is met that year. The program will be fully funded by boat registration fees.

Department officials estimate the effort would cost $3.5 million a year if it were run entirely by the state and would produce a harvest far less than the 20-million pound goal of the partnership announced today.

Despite this good news, "bass anglers need to keep up the pressure on elected representatives to make sure they are aware of actions at the state and federal level that are aimed at helping curb the spread of Asian carp," Gilliland said.

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