FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Kentucky Division of Fish and Wildlife Resources officials updated state lawmakers on the threat posed by Asian Carp, and ways they hope to mitigate the problem.
KDFWR Commissioner Gregory Johnson told members of the Interim Joint Committee on Tourism, Small Business and Information Technology, that Asian Carp infestations are in Lake Barkley, Kentucky Lake, the Mississippi River and the Ohio River, downstream of Louisville.
He said the fish was introduced into the United States in the early 1970s to control aquatic plants and for food. They escaped into the Mississippi River and have headed north ever since.
“They jeopardize a $1.2 billion tourism industry in the two lakes, as well as Land Between the Lakes,” he said. “That includes safety to boaters, jet skiers, tubers, water skiers, as well as the effect on the ecosystem relative to the fisheries on those two lakes.”
Johnson says Asian Carp are in demand as a food item, especially overseas, and are sometimes marketed in American restaurants as Bluefin. They have oils that are similar to salmon and tuna, as far as beneficial aspects, but without the mercury found in those two species.
“Less than half the Asian Carp needed to satisfy the markets are currently begin harvested,” Johnson said, even though the Kentucky commercial fishing industry processed over two million pounds.
He estimated it would take a harvest of five million pounds per year to bring Asian Carp under control in Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake.
“They feed at the lower end of the food chain, so they’re competing with Shad for food,” said Johnson. “Shad being the major forage fish in Barkley and Kentucky Lakes for sportfish, such as bass, crappie and others.”
He said KDFWR is looking at a market-based solution for the Asian Carp problem. “Right now, the only way to control these carp is to fish the heck out of them. We don’t have a magic bullet that researchers have come up with to control them.”
Johnson said they have issued a Request for Proposals for a fish harvesting and distribution company. “This will help increase the harvest above five million pounds per year. It’ll help get the fish out of the lakes, keep our ecosystem balanced and meet the growing demand for Asian Carp.”
The RFP was issued Oct. 26 with a deadline of Dec. 1. The negotiations will run into January, and Johnson says they hope to have a contract in late January for the harvest and distribution operation.
While there will be incentives to begin, he says the state will end them in six years. Funding will come from boater registration fees.
Johnson said states surrounding the Great Lakes are so concerned about possible infestation by Asian Carp that they have set up three barriers on the Chicago River, to prevent them entering Lake Michigan. Some $200 million in federal funding is being used to halt the fish and to establish an aggressive harvesting program on the Illinois and Chicago Rivers.
In Kentucky, Johnson said the current processor demand for Asian Carp is 9.5 milli0on pounds a year, which he sees expanding to 30 million pounds in the future.