League of Kentucky Sportsmen President Dr. Bill Haycraft believes the time has come to stop talking about Asian carp and do something about it. Dr. Haycraft shared with me his concerns last week in Frankfort regarding the outcry from sportsmen in Western Kentucky.
The Asian carp continue to move into our lakes when barges and boats move through the locks. They compete with the shad for plankton which is reducing the population of sport fish. Sportsmen believe crappie and sport fish are declining thus reducing the tourism dollars for West Kentucky.
While there is a great deal of political upheaval in Kentucky regarding the management of the Department of Fish & Wildlife the issue of Asian carp should not get lost in the midst of political strife. There seems to be no disagreement regarding the damage the Asian carp is causing but there is a difference in opinion as to what extent the Asian carp can be blamed for other perceived problems.
Since sportsmen believe there is a decline in the number of sport fish in Barkley and Kentucky Lake and if so, is the Asian carp to blame? Dan Cayce is President of the Christian-Trigg County Chapter of the League of Kentucky Sportsmen and he believes that the Asian carp are significantly reducing the crappie population. Mr. Cayce is also frustrated with the Department of Fish & Wildlife in what he descibes is a lack attention and effort on the part of the Department. Cayce said, " White crappie is the fish that puts dollars in local tourism's pockets." Cayce believes that the Department is not big enough to address the issue which he feels will ultimately ruin sport fishing on Kentucky and Barkley Lakes.
"The Department needs to enhance the resources not just protect resources which has been their mission," said Cayce. Cayce suggested that more attention be paid to the lakes by taking care of them not just monitoring them. "We need more enforcement and commercial fishing needs to be regulated,"commented Cayce. Allowing commercial fisherman to use larger nets and mechanical arms to harvest the larger carp would be one solution that Cayce would like to see. Sportsmen like Dan Cayce believe that lack of crappie fishing can be seen in the declining tourism dollars in the lakes region. While all sides agree that Asian carp are causing damage, it has opened the debate as to what extent they are harming sport fishing.
Paul Rister who is a biologist for the Department of Kentucky Fish & Wildlife states that the science shows that Asian carp are filter feeders who are competing with the shad. Rister states that this competition has stressed the food chain which inevitably means less shad which in turn means fewer sport fish. There does appear to be a difference of opinion regarding sportsmen and the Department when is comes to Asian carp eating other fish.
Rister believes that while the Asian carp is a serious issue it may not be solely to blame for the decline in sport fish. There are very few solutions to addressing the problem but everyone seems to agree that getting them out of the lakes via more commercial fishing is the short term answer. Rister said that he thought the present regulations are working but believes the Department should consider a longer season. The net season presently runs from November through February. Rister said, " Do we need to liberalize the season?, maybe."
If getting the Asian carp out of the lakes on a large scale is the answer then this solution is probably bigger than the Department of Fish & Wildlife and associations like the League of Kentucky Sportsmen. Harvesting large quantities of Asian carp will mean attracting fish processing plants to build near the lakes. Rister said, "There is a huge market overseas for Asian carp but they must be flash frozen and we don't have the processors right now." The silver carp is said to taste very good at three to four pounds and many compare it to crappie. Unfortunately just the name carp has a tendency to scare people off locally.
I'm sure the debate will continue as to the impact of Asian carp on our sports fish but there are other environmental factors we all must consider. Kentucky and Barkley Lakes are aging and continue to evolve. The progression of farming in the area of no till planting has reduced the amount of silt that washes into the lakes thus causing clearer water. While this has reduced the number of white crappie is has increased the number of black crappie who prefer the clearer water. One can't help but to consider what damage has been done by pollution. I think it safe to say that the poor economy has hurt tourism in Kentucky the last few years. While some folks may not be coming because of less fish I sincerely believe many people just can't afford it right now.
As the lakes evolve so must our solutions. While town hall meetings are important to achieving consensus, solving this problem will require a strong commitment from the legislative and executive branches of government. Sportsmen and the Department alone will not be able to defeat the growing Asian carp population.