Biologists with TWRA monitor fish populations throughout the state, including species such as invasive forms of Asian carp. There are four species of Asian carp currently in Tennessee including bighead, black, grass and silver carp. Although concerned with all invasive species, TWRA focuses on the impact of silver carp which have greatly impacted west Tennessee.
Silver and bighead carp are filter feeders which can remove microorganisms from waterways utilized by native fish.
Silver carp are known to jump from the water when startled. Silver carp have not been detected in waters near Chattanooga. However, biologists continue monitoring for the physical presence and movement of this and other species.
Recent eDNA analysis, a test sampling water only, has indicated bighead carp below Watts Bar Dam in the Tennessee waterways near Chattanooga. It is important to note, there have been no physical observations of this fish in Watts Bar or below its dam. TWRA has known of the presence of bighead carp near Nickajack Reservoir Dam for some time. Despite low abundance in the Nickajack area, the bighead carp state record was set in 2005 in Guntersville.
Asian carp were unintentionally introduced into U.S. waters in the late 1980s and early 1990s when they escaped from private aquaculture ponds into the Mississippi River during extreme floods. Asian carp migrated into Tennessee waters via locks at Kentucky and Barkley dams. Asian carp also entered Reelfoot Lake during high flows through its spillway.
There are two pathways through which Asian carp will advance into this region. One is migration through dams and locks that provide unrestricted access. The other is through unintentional transport as bait. Tributary reservoirs such as Dale Hollow, Center Hill, Great Falls and Parksville, which do not have a lock at their dam, will only acquire Asian carp through human introduction.
TWRA and partnering agencies are working to stop the advance of Asian carp through the research of sound barriers as well as through education on the movement of live bait. Equally important, TWRA is investing one half million dollars in the commercial harvest of Asian carp in Barkley and Kentucky Lakes. TWRA chief of fisheries Frank Fiss stated, “Studies and work taking place in west Tennessee will inherently help us stop the spread of this species into other areas. Tennessee is not alone in this struggle. Many states are working on this issue and sharing information gained from scientific research.”
TWRA Region III program manager Mark Thurman said, “Region III reservoir managers have long evaluated fish populations. Continued monitoring and comparison of historical data will provide impact estimates if Asian carp are found in its reservoirs.” Reservoirs will respond differently to the presence of Asian carp. Characteristics such as the size of the reservoir, competition for plankton and nutrient levels will determine the rate of progress of Asian carp and the possible decline of native fish populations.
Region III reservoir biologist Mike Jolley said, “As a biologist, the realization of Asian carp in any of the Region III waters is one of the greatest fears we have. There are no positives to having Asian carp, but only negative consequences. Prevention is paramount at the present time. It is imperative that all outdoor recreationalists do their part.”
“Don’t Dump Bait” has been one of the messaging strategies utilized by TWRA. Anglers should heed this statement and educate those around them. It is illegal to move live Asian carp in Tennessee and illegal to have a live bighead or silver carp in possession. Young Asian carp look very similar to shad. It is illegal to stock any species of fish into pubic waters. Anyone wishing to report illegal activity or in need of proper identification of a fish should contact their regional TWRA office.