Some progress made on carp prevention

Derek Wiget fishes Saturday on the Little Tennessee River.

The Tellico Village Property Owners Association Board of Directors was given an update June 17 on how Asian carp could impact Loudon County’s waterways.

Keith Sanderson, Tellico Village Broadcasting station manager, has been working closely with Watts Bar Ecology and Fishery to track the potential for an invasion and what state legislators are doing to help.

U.S. Reps. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., John Rose, R-Tenn., David Kustoff, R-Tenn., Phil Roe, R-Tenn., Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., sent a bipartisan letter to Peter Defazio, U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure chairman, and Sam Graves, U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member, asking the committee to “consider legislation to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act that would provide the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the necessary tools to study and address the spread of Asian carp,” Sanderson said.

At the state level, House Bill 2705 and its companion in the Senate, SB 2690, “seek a 10-member Asian carp commission to work on the Asian silver carp issue facing our state,” Sanderson said. The House bill came out of the Government Operations Committee and is headed to the Finance Committee.

Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw said he is glad to see movement in Washington, D.C., because “any solution we have to either keep them out or get rid of them has to come from higher up.”

Timothy Joseph, Watts Bar Ecology and Fishery chairman, said this year’s weather could possibly slow spawning rates for Asian carp, potentially buying Loudon County some time before the invasion. He said the carp move and lay their eggs upstream. A rainy spring and high water levels keep things moving downstream. He warned a poor spawning season did not mean Loudon County would be in the clear.

“If they’re in Chickamauga, they’re there to stay,” he said. “The spawning ability, whether you have a good year or not, all that really does is slow down or speed up how rapidly the fish are going to take over our lake. It doesn’t mean you’re safe and sound.”

Joseph said the only way to keep the lakes safe from the carp is to briefly close the lock while a temporary barrier is installed. There has been pushback over this suggestion because of the economic impact of closing the lock. However, the economic impact of the carp would be far greater.

Tennessee Valley Authority recently explained to Joseph the economic impact of closing the lock for a year would be “a couple hundred thousand” because most barges come up to Watts Bar lock but do not travel through to Loudon.

“We’re going to see no bass fishing, no bass tournaments, very low recreation,” he said. “You can’t pull your grandkids on a tube, let alone an adult on skis without the risk of getting your jaw broken or a skull fractured, which has happened. … We’re going to see commercial fishing out there trying to reduce the numbers. Trying to reduce the numbers, all that does is reduce the odds of being hit in the head. You can’t eliminate the fish. Those lakes, the economy, the recreation, the marinas are going to hurt. The rentals are going to hurt.”

Sanderson recently learned of a study that will detail which locks will get barriers and what type will be installed.

“What concerns us was the date — June 2021,” Sanderson said. “That’s a year from now, and that’s just for the study to be finished. Then the contracts will have to be made, designs will have to be done, and who knows how long that will take and then construction. So it will be two or three years before the barriers are put in.”

Bradshaw supports anything to help Loudon County avoid an economic impact, even if it means temporarily closing the lock. He said it would “depend on the timing.”

“If it’s going to be a very long, drawn-out process, and I think there’s been a lot of discussion and pushback,” Bradshaw said. “If it’s something that’s going to be a relatively quick solution, then I think we can find a way to make that work. It all just depends on the longevity.”