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State, federal officials visit Western Kentucky to observe experimental method to combat Asian carp

Tens of thousands of pounds of carp were removed from Smith and Pisgah bays Monday as part of experimental harvests of Asian Carp in Kentucky Lake. (Photo from KDFWR)

State and federal officials joined local partners at Pisgah Bay Monday to observe first-hand an experimental research method to address the Asian carp population at Kentucky Lake.

Gov. Andy Beshear and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined U.S. Rep. James Comer; Tourism, Arts and Heritage Secretary Mike Berry; Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White and others in the effort.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources along with the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Tennessee Valley Authority and other partners have participated in a month-long Modified Unified Method designed to remove larger numbers of Asian carp from two embayments at Kentucky Lake.

“I am honored to join together with our federal, state and local partners to see first-hand the fish and wildlife research efforts taking place at Kentucky Lake to address the Asian carp population,” said Gov. Beshear. “Recreational fishing pours more than $1 billion each year into the state’s $11 billion tourism industry. Today’s efforts illustrate our commitment to ensuring Kentucky’s tourism industry and local economies can continue to thrive from the booming recreational fishing industry.”

A researcher holds an Asian Carp captured in Kentucky Lake (File photo from KDFWR)

The Modified Unified Method test is the latest development in the ongoing effort to reduce Asian carp numbers in Kentucky. In November, a three-year $7 million experimental bio-acoustic fish fence was activated across the entrance to the lock chamber below Barkley Dam. The underwater barrier uses sound, lights and bubbles to steer fish away from the lock – and access to Lake Barkley.

Sen. McConnell was instrumental in securing increased federal funding for Kentucky and other states in the Mississippi River basin to maintain Asian carp population and prevent the spread into additional waterways.

“Invasive Asian carp present a serious danger to Kentucky’s waters and our $1.2 billion fishing industry. As Senate Majority Leader, I’m in a better position than ever to deliver much-needed attention and record-levels of federal resources to West Kentucky’s effort. I requested that the Trump administration deploy this advanced Unified Method here at Kentucky Lake, and it looks like it will be an important asset to protect our waters and our local economies,” said Senator McConnell. “Kentucky continues to lead the national fight against Asian carp, and I’m proud to work with local leaders, including Governor Beshear, Congressman Comer, Secretary Berry, and Judge White, to protect our communities, their workers, and their families.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife is leading the multiagency carp-deterrent efforts. Congress appropriated $25 million to the service in fiscal year 2020, a $14 million increase that will allow it to fund anti-carp projects in all six Mississippi River sub-basins.

“For several years I have been paying close attention to the growing threat of Asian carp in Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, including meeting with residents and community leaders, holding field hearings, and successfully working with Senator McConnell to commit more federal resources to combat an issue that negatively affects our tourism economy in the 1st Congressional District. I was proud to join with federal, state and local leaders at Kentucky Lake to see innovative new efforts to fight Asian carp and protect our local fishing industry in action,” Congressman Comer said.

USGS Research Fish Biologist Duane Chapman developed the “Modified Unified Method” as a twist on a traditional fishing technique used in China, where the carp are a native species and highly sought after for food.

On Kentucky Lake, crews are harvesting Asian carp by using underwater speakers and electrofishing gear to drive the fish into successively smaller areas for harvesting. Since native sport fish tend to hide from the disturbance, they are less likely to end up in the nets with the Asian carp. The few native sport fish caught are immediately released back into the water.

The Kentucky Lake test started Feb. 3 at Smith Bay. Researchers are close to finishing a multi-week trial of the “modified unified” harvest method to gauge its viability in a large reservoir and determine needs for future modifications. To date, researchers have removed thousands of pounds of Asian carp from the water despite some challenges.

Water temperatures in February are normally colder and silver carp remain sluggish and less prone to jump out of the water when approached by boats. Unseasonably warm temperatures this winter have caused the carp to be more active.

Commercial fishing is the best tool for reducing Asian carp populations. Last year, commercial fishing removed more than 7 million pounds of Asian carp from Kentucky waters, with the majority of that sum originating from Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

Asian carp are an invasive species and target the Southeast’s rich biodiversity. They eat at-risk, threatened or endangered mussels and snails, as well as basic food sources like planktons that sustain sport fish like crappie and largemouth bass. High populations of Asian carp pose a threat to the recreational fishing industry in Kentucky that attracts over 550,000 participants and contributes $1.2 billion to the state’s economy each year.

The Modified Unified Method has been successful at removing large numbers of Asian carp from waters in Illinois and Missouri. The effort at Kentucky Lake is on a larger scale and represents the first test of the method on a U.S. reservoir larger than 500 acres.

From Governor’s Office

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