Some Village residents remain unconvinced efforts to halt the spread of invasive Asian carp in local waters will be effective.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, through State Rep. Lowell Russell R-Vonore, recently provided an update on the status of the project, emphasizing there are few options available to control the fish but the agency is taking the needed steps to implement all of them as funding allows.
TWRA control measures largely focus on the Tennessee and Cumberland systems where available methods can reduce carp abundance and limit their spread to new waters.
Joe McCaul, a Tellico Village resident, member of the Tellico Fishing Club and founder of the Stop Silver Carp Facebook page, said the plan by TWRA and the Tennessee Valley Authority is well intentioned but short on meaningful action.
He said a better model can be found in Illinois where the Army Corps of Engineers has managed the investment of about $850 million in electric barriers.
McCaul said he is concerned TWRA solutions focus on controlling carp populations and do not go far enough toward preventing the spread.
In September 2018, TWRA implemented a carp harvest incentive program to strategically remove carp from Kentucky and Barkley lakes through commercial fishing. The program has resulted in removal of more than 18 million pounds of carp from those waters as of Aug. 31.
Harvesting carp from Kentucky and Barkley lakes is expected to lessen the likelihood they will migrate upstream to new reservoirs in large numbers.
McCaul said he believes by promoting a commercial fishing solution to the carp, TWRA and TVA are admitting their goal is not to necessarily eradicate the pest but create a thriving business model based on the long-term presence of the fish.
TWRA said the agency and its partners recognize removal alone is not a long-term solution and that deterrents are needed at locks to further restrict movement of carp.
“We have supported partners with implementation of the experimental BioAcoustic Fish Fence at Barkley Lock, prioritized deterrent locations on the Tennessee River ahead of TVA’s programmatic environmental assessment and brought awareness to the urgent need for deterrents,” according to the update. “At current population levels, with commercial harvest in place, there have been only a few observations of movement upstream by carp populations.”
McCaul said there is no evidence to prove acoustic barriers are an effective solution. He said there is abundant evidence that the electrical barriers are effective.
TWRA said the agency and partners continue to monitor the abundance and movements of carp to evaluate and direct control efforts. TWRA said fisheries staff has monitored East Tennessee reservoirs for carp since 2020.
“Fortunately, no silver or bighead carp have been observed,” TWRA said.
The agency has also monitored carp reproduction in Kentucky and Barkley reservoirs since 2016. In that time, only one larval silver carp was collected and no juveniles have been collected, suggesting reproduction efforts have been unsuccessful and any local population is driven by migration.
TWRA said it is actively working with management and research partners, utilizing the best available information to determine the priority locations for deterrents in anticipation of future funding.
The agency said it will continue sampling and removal efforts to provide valuable information for implementation of carp prevention and control strategies. TWRA continues to support the implementation of strategies backed by partners, including Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and surrounding state wildlife agencies.
Tellico Village resident Pandora Vreeland, a member of the Watts Bar Ecology and Fisheries Council, recently wrote a letter to TWRA concerning actions to stop the carp.
“This is the most important decision your agency will make for the rest of this century,” Vreeland wrote. “TWRA has stumbled on some big issues the last few years. They need to be on the right side of this problem or tens of thousands of homeowners, boaters, fishermen, businesses, recreational lake users, counties and cities will suffer from the significant long-term damaging presence of Asian silver carp that cannot be eradicated once they are established.
“I do sincerely hope you will put your agency’s full support behind building the first barriers at Watts Bar Lock and Chickamauga Lock,” she added.
Dr. Timothy Joseph, a biologist who works with WBEFC, said TVA and TWRA are trying to close the barn door after the horse has left.
“The most important thing is to prevent them from getting into new ecosystems like Watts Bar, Fort Loudon and Tellico Lake, and not controlling them where they are already established,” Joseph said.
McCaul said Joseph’s analysis is correct and based on common sense.
“If you see a mouse in your garage are you going to close the garage door first or close the door to the kitchen first to keep the mouse from getting into the house?” he said.