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By Steve McCadams

Fishermen, recreational boaters, campers and all lake dwellers have been concerned this week as to an ongoing die-off of Asian carp along Kentucky Lake. Big numbers have been seen floating and washing up on shorelines.

While most have voiced concern as to the encroachment of this non-native species and view the die-off as somewhat of a mixed blessing, there is also concern as to just what’s causing it.

So far no gamefish or other species have experienced problems. Fisheries biologists with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife are aware of the scenario and have been taking tissue samples this week to better address the situation.

Samples have been sent to regional laboratories to help determine the specific cause of the die-off. Right now, state fisheries biologists do not have specific answers to the saga but once evaluations of tissues samples are completed it will better address what’s going on.

The advancement of Asian carp has been a concern for several years both here and elsewhere throughout the Mississippi River drainage.

Asian carp feed on zooplankton within the water column and biologists across the country have been sounding the alarm of concern for many years. They compete with other fish species, especially paddlefish and other young of the year species, for microscopic morsels and often invade an area and displace other gamefish. They have to real enemies.

The Asian carp----there are two main species comprised of big head (black) and silver---are already abundant within the Barkley and Kentucky Lake area. The silver is the one that jumps and spooks quite easily.

Bass and crappie fishermen do not like the advancement of Asian carp within reservoirs. Small tributaries and oxbow lakes that have witnessed the Asian carp invasion have seen sport fishing diminish dramatically.

Not too many tears are being shed by the sport fishing community but it is somewhat of a mystery why this one species is experiencing a massive die-off and other species have not.

Stay tuned as there’s a lot more information forthcoming addressing the Asian carp.


Lakers may have noticed recently there are a large number of fish dying along the shoreline throughout Kentucky and Barkley lakes, an occurrence that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is aware of and investigating.

The dead fish are silver carp, an invasive species that can negatively impact native fish and recreational boating. Because of these threats, the TWRA has been working to stem their expansion into new waters.

“While we are trying to learn how to slow or stop their expansion, the recent die-off of thousands of fish for whatever reason has occurred naturally,” noted Frank Fiss, Chief of TWRA’s Fisheries Division.

“We have collected samples of the dead fish and sent them to a lab to identify the cause of the disease. This type of analysis is not always conclusive, but we are trying to gather as much information as possible.”

Silver carp and bighead carp are among a family of invasive “Asian” carp that were imported to the USA in the early 1970s. They escaped into the Mississippi River decades ago and have steadily spread into numerous bodies of waters, including rivers in Tennessee.

Growing numbers of carp are a threat to native species because Asian carp rely primarily on plankton as a food source, which is an also important source of food for native species, especially at smaller sizes.

Silver carp can also pose dangers to boaters as they often respond to motor vibration or noise by leaping as boats approach or pass through schooling fish that can weigh 30 to 40 pounds.

“Most of the dead fish that we have seen have been two years old but there are a lot of dead fish, and we are probably only seeing a tiny percentage of what actually inhabits the reservoir,” said Fiss.

“The widespread die off does not seem to be impacting other fish species, which is good news for game fish and anglers” said Fiss. “We appreciate all the reports we have received, and we want everyone to know we are aware of the die off and are monitoring it.”

“It may take 30 days for the brain and kidney/spleen cultures to show anything,” said Kentucky Lake TWRA fisheries biologist Tim Broadbent. “They (laboratory) have reported no issues in the gills, etc.”

Tissue samples have been in the lab for about a week so hopefully the time frame is diminishing as to when the public and biologists will have a handle on the recent die-off.


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