Expanding population of Asian carp could pose problems for Rhea lakes

Officials with the Rhea Economic and Tourism Council sounded the alarm at their Monday meeting about a potential invasive species of fish that could hurt the lake economy in the coming years.

RETC officials join a growing number of state and federal officials — such as the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency [TWRA] and the Tennessee Valley Authority [TVA] — who have started taking action against the Asian carp.

Rhea Economic and Tourism Council Executive Director Dennis Tumlin said the threat from the Asian carp is that it disrupts the food chain and could out-compete other species of fish for resources.

He said that 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, Tumlin 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 bowfishing 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.”

Tumlin said that various state and federal officials have said that the Asian carp could potentially spread to Rhea County reservoirs in the coming years.