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The worst of a fish kill that has claimed upward of a half million Asian
carp in the Cumberland
River below Lake Barkley dam is believed to be over.
On Friday, April 25, fisheries biologists with the Kentucky Department of
Fish and Wildlife Resources returned to the area as the focus shifted to
learning what might have caused the considerable die-off of invasive
“Anglers were seeing dead fish a week ago, some two weeks ago, which is
very typical of a fish kill caused by some type of viral pathogen,” said
Paul Rister, western fisheries district biologist with Kentucky Fish and
Wildlife. “It’s kind of a bell-shaped curve. You start seeing a few die,
and a few more die, and then you reach the peak of the massive die-off. I
think we’re on that downhill side now.”
After conferring with Asian carp researchers from around the country,
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Fisheries Director Ron Brooks said the belief
among experts is that the fish kill found below Barkley Dam to the
Cumberland River’s confluence with the Ohio River is the largest ever
involving Asian carp in the United States.
Silver carp, which are not native to the United States, appear to be the
only fish affected. To help move the mass of fish downriver, the U.S.
Corps of Engineers on Thursday opened three gates at Barkley Dam to flush
dead fish downstream.
“I don’t think people have to worry about those pathogens affecting native
species,” Brooks said. “That’s probably the best news of all.”
While the cause has not been confirmed, possibilities include overstress
from spawning or the presence of a pathogen that disrupts brain function
in the fish, Brooks said.
“Any time you have an event where there are a lot of fish congregating,
it’s just like any other animal, the chance for a pathogen to spread
increases,” he said. “Whether it’s that pathogen or some other stressor,
no one will know until we get word from the researchers.”
Dying silver carp collected from the area by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife
will undergo disease testing at Kentucky State University. Kentucky Fish
and Wildlife also is working the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as
agencies from bordering states and Purdue University.
Fisheries biologists visited nearby Kentucky Lake dam Friday after
receiving reports of dead Asian carp on the Tennessee River. After
investigating the area, the cause of death of those fish is believed to be
due to bow anglers and snaggers.
Asian carp find the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers hospitable because the
water discharged from Lake Barkley and neighboring Kentucky Lake is so
fertile, Brooks said.
He is hopeful researchers find something from this fish kill that leads to
the eventual eradication of Asian carp. Silver carp are plankton feeders
and threaten the well-being of native fish and mussels by over-harvesting
that vital source of nutrition.
“It’s comforting to know there’s something out there that might take these
things out before they just devastate everything,” Brooks said. “Right now
we just don’t have it.”