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Moans of distant outboard motors fade away as gulls squall over fishing rights and great blue herons defy gravity on a silent fly-by from one side of the lake to the other. It’s downright peaceful and you can hear owls swapping stories from the distant ridges of Stewart County.
Suddenly placid waters erupt around my boat as though hogs were wallowing in shallow ponds. What seems like hundreds of turbulent “swishes” that might be mistaken for a big bass in hot pursuit of baitfish now create a chain reaction of frightened fish the size torpedoes.
My clients quickly yell “what’s that” questions in my direction and while I wish it were trophy bass on a surface feeding frenzy I know better; a massive school of big head carp have entered our locale and once spooked they react with a violent gushing retreat.
Their numbers are many. Their size is huge.
Most anglers and recreational boaters who visit Kentucky Lake aren’t aware of the potential problem swimming silently below. In fact, the lion’s share of lakers don’t know much about Asian carp and the threat they bring to waters whenever they encroach.
Commercial fishermen here began seeing the intruders several years ago when their nets would sometimes fill with the nonnative eating machines. Questions were asked and concerns were voiced but until recently nothing much has been done to educate the public or address the problem.
Are you aware of the problems associated with Asian carp? Do you know what they can do to sport fishing? How about the danger to boaters or kids on a jet ski once a 40-pound fish vaults up in the air and hits someone traveling at high speed?
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s chief fisheries biologist Bobby Wilson will be in Paris Tuesday night as part of the TWRA Roadshow that makes a stop at Kridger Performing Arts Center. The meeting begins at 7 PM. Topping the agenda will be Wilson’s presentation on the saga that should be on the minds of all Kentucky Lake users.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Asian carp can quickly populate as females potentially produce over 700,000 eggs. They can quickly become the dominant fish species in an area.
Growth rates are very fast due to their ability to filter zooplankton and algae out of the water column. They grow so fast---eating up to 20 percent of their body weight per day---that in only a few months they are already too large for most predator fish to consume.
They compete directly with larval and juvenile sport fish, namely bluegill and crappie, adult paddlefish (spoonbill catfish), buffalo, gizzard shad and any other species that use zooplankton as a food source.
Asian carp numbers are already high in Kentucky and Barkley Lakes, a cause of concern for both sport and commercial anglers.
Their jumping display when spooked by boat motors is a great danger to all boaters.
The Asian invasion has the potential to greatly impact the quality of sport fishing and thus diminish the tourism industry here.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Asian carp is the name used to refer to both silver and bighead carp. The two species are not native to our waters and are considered aquatic nuisance or invasive.
Brought to the United States in the 1970’s from China, both the silver and big head were intended to be used in aquaculture and wastewater treatment ponds for plankton control and to improve water quality.
Unfortunately, they escaped these ponds during flooding and appeared in open public waters around 1980. Asian carp are now found in the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River basins.
WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?
While total eradication may be impossible, bringing commercial fishermen into the equation may help control the rapidly expanding problem. Both Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency are making steps to pursue support of establishment of domestic and export markets to Asian carp as a food fish.
The clock is ticking for Kentucky and Barkley Lakes. Reelfoot Lake has them too. Many oxbow lakes along the Mississippi that once harbored good bluegill, crappie, bass and catfish fishing have seen that fishery disappear.
It will take some doing but helping fish processors get going will help reduce existing numbers of Asian carp. The stakes are high and many anglers are hoping the project gets going quickly before it’s a case of “closing the gate after the horse got out”.
The problem doesn’t stop and start at state lines. It will take cooperation from state and federal agencies to achieve the desired goals but the wheels have been turning slowly.
Steve McCadams is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing area. He has also contributed many outdoor oriented articles to various national publications.
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