Rhea County Courthouse

The historic Rhea County Courthouse is picture above in a Herald-News File Photo

The Rhea County Commission approved a resolution on Tuesday, asking that the state government take further measurers to stop an invasive species of fish — Asian carp — that could destroy local ecosystems and in turn hamper efforts to draw fishing tournaments to Rhea County.

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Rhea County resident Jim Amish, who lives along Watts Bar Lake in north Rhea, asked the commission to consider the resolution, and the commission passed it unanimously.

Amish said that Asian carp pose numerous threats to boaters, the ecosystem and the local economy. He noted that the Asian carp can jump out of the water do so when hearing loud noises such as boat engines. The carp also feed on the same food as the local sports fish and have a high reproductive rate, Amish said, which could eventually destroy the local fish population. Those traits, he said, could eventually lower the population of sports fish and in turn cause fishing tournaments to look else where to hold their events.

“[Kentucky Lake] is experiencing a loss of fishing tournaments and revenue,” Amish said. “This has been an ongoing problem for several years.”

While the Asian carp has not yet been found in either Lake Chickamauga or Watts Bar Lake, Amish said it is only a matter of time — perhaps even two years — before the invasive species shows up in Rhea County.

Recently, Amish said, the fish have been spotted in Guntersville, Ala., which is only 75 miles from the Nickajack reservoir in Hamilton County.

The Rhea County Commission now joins a growing number of local, state and federal officials — such as the Rhea Economic and Tourism Council, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency [TWRA] and the Tennessee Valley Authority [TVA] — who have started taking action against the Asian carp.

Economic development officials as well as wildlife officials have already seen the destruction caused by Asian carp on Kentucky Lake. Once a hotspot for fishing tournaments, officials said the invasion and spread of Asian carp has cost the area economically due to dwindling fishing tournament opportunities.

In Tennessee, TVA is working in collaboration with the TWRA and other organizations to stop the spread of Asian carp. Through public awareness, emphasis on commercial fishing and hosting the occasional bow fishing tournament, TWRA hopes to control these invasive fish currently living in some Valley waterways.

State officials said that Asian carp were first introduced to public waterways in the early 1990s when they escaped from aquaculture ponds in the delta areas of the Mississippi River during extreme flooding. Since then they have migrated through the Missouri River and the lock-and-dam systems of the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.

Although these nuisance carp cannot swim into all reservoirs, they could be unintentionally introduced by fisherman.

“We are asking people to be cautious when they are harvesting live bait,” said Frank Fiss, TWRA chief of Fisheries. “Small carp look very similar to threadfin shad and gizzard shad, and we don’t want anyone to mistake them and accidentally move them to new waters.”

To control Asian carp in TVA reservoirs where they are already established, like Kentucky Lake, TWRA is providing commercial fishing and bowfishing incentives to encourage carp harvest. This is a strategic effort to reduce the threat to boaters and aquatic resources.

The silver carp — a species of Asian carp — is the species most concerning to boaters’ safety.

“We want boaters to be aware that these fish jump,” Fiss said. “It is not like the fish target you, but people should be wary of their random jumps. Anyone hit by large carp could be injured.”