Congressional briefing covers carp problem

WASHINGTON, D.C. – An angler and tournament organizer provided a graphic visual image of the threat that Asian carp pose to Kentucky and Barkley Lakes on July 25, during a Congressional briefing here.

“If you are not there to see the sheer numbers, you would not believe it,” said Bill Taylor, Senior Director of Tournament Operations for Fishing League Worldwide (FLW), based in Benton, Ky. “In an area a mile or two miles long, you see millions of them (Asian carp). They’re as far as the eye can see.

“Until you see that, you can’t believe it.”

Although the reasons aren’t certain, catch rates for black bass are down, he added, but of most concern for fishermen is “what’s happening to the baitfish” because of these filter feeders.

He also pointed out that boat ramps “were nearly empty” during the Fourth of July weekend and expressed fear for what is happening to tourism and local economies as a consequence.

“Fishermen are not coming to the lake,” he said. “You used to see a lot of water skiing, jet skiing, and tubing. Those activities have fallen off dramatically.”

The briefing was convened by the Northeast-Midwest Institute Mississippi River Basin Program (NEMWI) and the Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association (MICRA) to detail and discuss efforts to diminish populations of Asian carp and slow their spread in the Mississippi and Ohio River basins.

At present, commercial and contract fishing seem to be where most of the focus is on in the war against Asian Carp. But research is ongoing for acoustic and flow modification barriers, habitat manipulation to direct populations into confined areas for removal and development of species-specific “microparticle” toxins.

NEMWI said, “Overall, the briefing provided Congressional staff, regional and environmental organizations, and interested members of the public the opportunity to hear directly from stakeholders from the Upper Mississippi and Ohio Rivers about the current efforts to monitor, control, remove, and deter the spread of Asian carp.”

Greg Conover, MICRA coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) discussed the nationwide approach for  control and management of Asian carp,  as well as pointed out its increased funding since 2015. That was the year that the agency started  assisting with efforts outside the Great Lakes. For 2018, FWS as $4.8 million in base appropriations for the effort, including $1.15 million for the Ohio River basin and $1.05 for the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

Concurrently, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has secured a provision in the Senate Interior Appropriations bill to specifically combat Asian carp in Kentucky and Barkley Lakes. He’s also asked for $11 million to help finance efforts in the river systems, as well as the lakes.

“Fishing is a multi-billion-dollar industry in Kentucky, pumping an estimated $1.2 billion into the western Kentucky economy alone,” McConnell said. “Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley are popular fishing areas that are being threatened by the existence and the spread of Asian carp, and we must protect them. Not only are these fish a danger for the local economy, they are also a safety hazard for anglers and boaters,”

Meanwhile at the briefing, Aaron Woldt of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) talked about the success of acoustic deterrents in laboratory and pond settings, adding that the big question now is whether they will work on large river systems. Barkley Dam will be one of the sites to test their effectiveness.

Nick Frohnauer of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources provided an assessment of the situation in the Upper Mississippi River basin, including the creation of “management zones” to prevent upstream migration.

“We’re going to need a much larger investment,” he said.

On the Ohio River, “tons and tons of Asian carp are in there and there are lots of places where they can spawn,” explained Ron Brooks, fisheries chief for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.          McAlpine Locks and Dam at Louisville, thus far, has been a “pinch point” for slowing migration up the Ohio River, he said. Below there, “contract” fishing is diminishing populations of bighead and silver carp.

“We’re doing a lot with commercial fishing. We now have three processing plants in western Kentucky,” Brooks explained, adding that harvest is not meeting market demands.

“But with Fish House, a $4 million incentive to commercial fishermen, the bottom line is that we’re going to see a great increase in the harvest of Asian carp. We expect to double that (harvest) and more in Kentucky waters.”

Those who want to help Kentucky in its fight against Asian carp can make a donation through the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“We need resources,” Taylor said. “Through commercial fishing, we’re taking out the numbers and we will be better off. But this issue is huge.”

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