Fighting Invasive Carp in Tennessee


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Over the past two decades, invasive carp have migrated into the Cumberland and Tennessee river systems from the Mississippi River.

They entered the state by swimming through locks and dams as barge traffic passed.

In addition to consuming the resources and food that our native fish require, the jumping type can be dangerous for boaters.

There are four species of invasive carp (formerly known as Asian carp).

silver carp

“First there’s the silver carp,” said Cole Harty, aquatic pest species coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “It is probably the species that is one of the four that concerns us the most. These fish weighed five or six pounds in the tank. And these are the ones that jump.

Silver carp leaping near the Barkley Dam

bighead carp

Then there is the bighead carp, which can grow to over a hundred pounds. They don’t jump, but they filter out a lot of the resources that our native fish need.

Fighting Invasive Carp in Tennessee
bighead carp

grass carp

A third invasive carp is the grass carp. These have been most commonly used in water management. But, TWRA said it was eating aquatic vegetation that typically helps cover sport fish like largemouth bass and crappie, which is concerning.

TWRA added that grass carp can be used in private lakes and ponds as long as they are sterile, but they find a more sterile variety in the wild.

Fighting Invasive Carp in Tennessee
Grass Carp (TWRA photo)

black carp

TWRA said black carp was first introduced to help control snails in commercial catfish ponds.

“Black carp are also a big concern here, as they are molluscivores,” Harty pointed out. “They eat snails and molluscs. Tennessee has one of the most diverse populations of mussels and snails.

Fighting Invasive Carp in Tennessee
Black carp (TWRA photo)

Harty explained what can be done to help eradicate the invasive carp.

First, they try to prevent fish from swimming through the sluices of the dams. Bio-acoustic fish fences are under development. These emit flashing lights, bubbles and sounds that will deter fish from swimming through the locks.

The first was installed at Barkley Dam by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in conjunction with the US Geological Survey, Corps of Engineers, and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Studies on its effectiveness will be completed by 2023. Preliminary data is already promising.

Fighting Invasive Carp in Tennessee
Bio-Acoustic Fence

The other way to get these fish out of our waters is through the Tennessee Carp Harvest Incentive Program for commercial anglers. It was launched in September 2018.

“Since this program began, commercial fishers have removed over 15 million pounds of carp from Tennessee and Kentucky waters of Kentucky and Barkley Lakes,” Harty said.

You might wonder, what can they do with these carp?

“A lot of people hear the word ‘carp’ and they think like a four-letter word, and they think it’s going to be gross, not edible,” Harty explained. “But, these silver, bighead carp are really quite edible. They have flaky white flesh. It’s good on the table.

Between barriers, removal, and maybe a few carp dinners in between, the hope is to get these fish out of our waters and keep them out.


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