GRAND RIVERS, Ky. (AP) — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was on hand Monday to witness a massive harvest of invasive Asian carp from Kentucky Lake, after an experimental roundup that wildlife officials say could be the first of many.
The roundup began on Feb. 3, with state and federal fisheries officials working in boats to methodically drive the fish with electricity and noise through a series of nets. The technique was designed to leave most native fish unharmed.
McConnell watched as dozens of fish jumped about the water in a large netted area where they were driven days earlier. Crews in small boats Monday worked to reduce the size of the area to guide the fish toward a large vacuum hose, which discharged the fish into a net pen where they would be removed from the lake.
McConnell, who was joined at the lake by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, recently helped secure $25 million in federal funding to implement the Asian carp national management plan first developed in 2007.
“Invasive Asian carp present a serious danger to Kentucky’s waters and our $1.2 billion fishing industry," McConnell said in a statement. “As Senate Majority Leader, I’m in a better position than ever to deliver much-needed attention and record-levels of federal resources to West Kentucky’s effort.”
The harvest method mainly targets bighead and silver carp, two of the four invasive carp species collectively known as Asian carp in the U.S. Both bighead and silver carp devour plankton that form the base of the food chains. They grow rapidly and reproduce prolifically, outcompeting many native fish. Silver carp are also notorious for their unpleasant habit of hurtling from the water like missiles when startled by boat motors. Collisions have broken noses, jaws and ribs.
State and federal agencies together have spent roughly $607 million to stop them since 2004, according to data compiled by The Associated Press. Projects in the works are expected to push the price tag to about $1.5 billion over the next decade.
That’s more than five times the amount predicted in 2007 when a national carp management plan was crafted, and no end is in sight.
Asian carp are established all along the Mississippi River and in dozens of tributaries, but much of the focus has been on keeping them out of the Great Lakes, where experts say they could devastate a $7 billion fishing industry.
Less money and attention have been paid to the carp’s virtually unchecked spread east and west into the Missouri and Ohio rivers, among others, but that’s changing.
In addition to the roundup, Kentucky is helping subsidize a burgeoning commercial fishing industry that pulled in 6 million pounds of Asian carp in 2019. And the state is testing a new barrier method at nearby Lake Barkley that they hope will prevent the carp from using the locks to travel upstream.
Beshear said in the statement that Monday's efforts "illustrate our commitment to ensuring Kentucky’s tourism industry and local economies can continue to thrive from the booming recreational fishing industry.”