Threat posed by invasive fish sparks action in East Tennessee

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LOUDON COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — Whether it be to fish, boat, or entertain their grandkids, being by the water is why Joe McCaul and his wife decided to retire to Tellico Village. He fears their serenity and recreation is threatened by the invasive Asian carp.

“If these carp show up…our purpose for moving here is up in smoke,” he said.

They’re called a nuisance. They’re called invasive. But they’re also dangerous to the economic health of communities and the physical health of boaters. These are the four types of Asian carp: bighead, silver, black, and grass.

Silver carp jump. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says they’re known to jump when disturbed by boats. If a jumping carp hits a moving passenger on a boat, they say, it cause serious injury. The silver and bighead also, put simply, have the ability to out-compete native fish by consuming large amounts of plankton.

In November 2019, an experimental bio-acoustic fish fence was used on the downstream side of Barkley Lock in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. It’s an attempt to stop the invasive fish from moving further up the Cumberland River.

A TWRA map shows one report of the fish in East Tennessee, at Lake Chickamauga. McCaul remembers hearing that report and deciding to spread the word about the risks the fish pose to our region. “My wife said…if the carp show up here, we’re moving.”

McCaul organized a group of people, concerned about the threat the fish pose, and launched a social media campaign. It aims to educate the public of the risks, and ultimately, encourage them to demand action. Specifically, he wants to see physical steps taken, including closing the locks at Watts Bar and Fort Loudon, temporarily, until effective barriers can be installed.

U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN District 2) requested $25 million in the FY2021 budget for ongoing efforts in the Mississippi River, tributaries, and sub-basins, including: buying and installing barriers to stop the carp, financial incentives for commercial fishermen to remove the carp, fund the monitoring of the carp to evaluate removal methods. The move passed the House.

Burchett also advocated for language to be added to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which also passed the House, which included “allowing the Secretary of the Interior to update guidance on invasive species efforts at federally authorized water resources development projects located in high-altitude lakes and the Tennessee and Cumberland River basins.”

McCaul fears if the carp finds its way to East Tennessee, it won’t leave.

“There’s no going back. One they get passed and reproduce in the next reservoir,” he said, “you’ll never get rid of them. No one has figured out how to get rid of them.”

The TWRA asks, if you live in East Tennessee and you catch an Asian carp, to freeze it or put it on ice and contact them. If you’re unable to store the fish, they ask that you take a photo with the fish in hand and send it their way.

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