TWRA Hoping to Halt Asian Carp

A silver carp tagged with an acoustic transmitter (black tag located on the fish’s back) to monitor movement in the field. TWRA is funding similar research in West Tennessee as part of its effort to curtail movement of the exotic species farther upstream on the Tennessee River. (Photo: Contributed)

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is working hard to keep Asian carp from continuing their march up the Tennessee River.

Frank Fiss, TWRA Fisheries chief, presented an update on Asian carp at the most recent gathering of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission. Four species of exotic Asian carp are found in Tennessee waterways including the silver, bighead, black and grass carp.

TWRA works with other state and federal agencies to control these species, especially in the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers where there is still time to protect upstream reservoirs. The exotic carp, introduced to the ecosystem accidentally years ago, have been expanded all across the Eastern United States. Fiss says there are now substantial numbers in the northern section of Kentucky Lake.

Fiss outlined the agency’s efforts to control the exotic species including monitoring their movement using acoustic tags and working with federal officials to hopefully experiment with carp-specific sound barriers at dams on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.

“I’m still thinking primarily about containment,” said Fiss. “There has been research to demonstrate it is possible to deter carp from moving through locks using sound. The thinking is we need to scale this up. These are high-dollar projects. It costs 300 to 500 thousand dollars to install just one, plus the ongoing maintenance.”

Fiss says TWRA has already spent more than $150,000 on a contract with fisheries researchers at Tennessee Technological University. He said 47 carp tagged in Kentucky Lake. Using acoustic receivers researchers can track the movements of the tagged fish. He said fish have also been acoustically tagged in North Alabama and in Kentucky.

Fiss said they may add another year of research for $170,000. He said the money for the effort is coming from federal grants.

The effort is the precursor of a cooperative effort with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to test the effectiveness of the carp-specific sound barriers at TVA or Corps of Engineers dams. The systems would blast specific underwater sound waves at dams in hopes of repelling Asian carp and preventing them from entering locks and moving farther upstream.

“We’ve invited the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to come demonstrate this [in Tennessee],” said Fiss. “The best place is to do this is at Kentucky or Barkley Lake. We have to place them somewhere there are enough fish to challenge the barriers to accurately test it.”

Fiss said, however, researchers have not decided exactly where to conduct the test yet.

“I’ve been working hard for three years to try and get this moving ahead,” said Fiss. “We need to do something now rather than later.”

In other action at the recent TFWC, chiefs from five TWRA divisions shard a number of budget expansions so the agency can accept funds from other sources. There is no increase in of license dollars included in the expansions.

Among the projects to be funded include the removal and replacement of a pier deemed unsafe at Paris Landing State Park. TVA and Brookfield Renewable will provide more than $200,000 in grants for hatchery improvements. Fiss said he also received $72,000 from the 2008 TVA Ash Spill settlement for a new fishing pier at Watts Bar Lake near Spring City. Other new items included a 100 federal percent funding for land acquisition of 82 acres at Catoosa Wildlife Management Area, National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Superfund Grants, comes for habitat and hunter access projects on statewide WMAs.

TWRA Asst. Director Ken Tarkington said there was a total of $1.9 million dollars in budget expansions from outside sources. Tarkington said he believes it will be at least three years, hopefully more, before TWRA officials might have to consider hunting & fishing license increase.

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