Asian Carp Information

Ohio River Fisheries Management Team (ORFMT) Report on Strategies for Managing Asian Carp in the Ohio River Watershed

 The ORFMT has released a report detailing strategies for controlling the spread of asian carp and reducing populations where they are already established.  The report is available here.  The Asian Carp Harvest Program is also available to view. 



Carp Madness!

Asian Carp Madness
Tim Farmer and Chad Miles present a tired but jubilant Barry Mann a first prize check.

Tim Farmer and Chad Miles present a tired but jubilant Barry Mann a first prize check.

Commercial fishermen harvested 82,953 pounds of Asian carp during the country’s first freshwater commercial fishing tournament, held on Kentucky and Barkley lakes March 12-13, 2013.

This inaugural tournament is an innovative way to limit the number of Asian carp swimming in our waters. Asian carp are detrimental to major recreational industries and aquatic ecologies everywhere that these invasive species reside.

Many volunteers and department employees made the tournament go. A $5,000 contribution from The League of Kentucky Sportsmen helped fund the $20,000 awarded to the top five teams. Many others donated equipment, facilities, and expertise to help make this tournament a success.

Fifteen teams started the tournament; 11 teams fished both days. Participants ranged from wily veterans who fish the reservoirs almost daily during the special net season to amateurs who just wanted to help remove Asian carp.

Asian carp harvest by the most experienced teams exceeded expectations: Barry Mann’s winning team harvested 28,669 pounds and took home the $10,000 grand prize. Heath Frailley and his crew took the second-place prize of $5,000 with 22,005 pounds.

Silver Fin co-owner and commercial fisherman Ronnie Hopkins takes the media for a ride on a carp catching tour.

Silver Fin co-owner and commercial fisherman Ronnie Hopkins takes the media for a ride on a carp catching tour.

The two teams frequently net fish in the reservoirs during this time of year. Although their experience was a valuable asset, each team was driven to win. Their tenacity was incredible.

A team headed by Kentucky fisherman Owen Trainer captured third place with a total of 7,788 pounds. The Trainer Team almost exited the tournament after failing to net more than a few carp in the first day. Their persistence, however, netted them $3,000 in prize money.

Despite fishing only the first day, Ben Duncan’s team from Tennessee took fourth place and $2,000 with 7,160 pounds. Duncan, a school teacher, could only take one day off from work. He took a personal day to help remove Asian carp.

Joe Bommarito took fifth place and a $1,000 prize with 4,340 pounds of fish.

This tournament was important for many reasons. Commercial fishermen clearly showed that they can harvest tons of Asian carp each day even with minimal experience.

Fisherman unloading Asian carp from his boat into the shipping totes.

Fisherman unloading Asian carp from his boat into the shipping totes.

Anglers working as volunteer observers witnessed few sportfish in the nets. Sportfish mortality was minimal. The tournament revealed that experienced commercial fishermen can direct their effort at invasive fish species without significant consequences to bass, bream, catfish, white bass and crappie.

This tournament underscores this department’s resolve to fight the invasion of Asian carp in any way we can, even without availability of significant funding. While the federal government has provided funding to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, more financial support is needed for other areas where the problem exists. Our hope is that innovative projects such as the Carp Madness Tournament can make a difference by helping to reduce numbers of Asian carp in critical areas and educating the public.

The Carp Madness tournament revealed the passion that many people have concerning problems Asian carp pose in our waters. Volunteers came from as far away as Maine to help make this tournament a success. They came without asking for money or notoriety - their actions epitomize what is good about most people. Asian carp are harming our natural resources and important economies, and this is cause enough for many to reach out in support of any control measures - and we thank everyone who helped or sponsored this effort.

Asian Carp Identification

Adult Asian Carp Identification Drawing

Young Carp look remarkably similar to common baitfish. An accidental release of carp into Kentucky's lakes and streams could have dire consequences on the ecosystem and boater safety. Carp reproduce at a staggering rates and grow quickly, rapidly consuming food sources valuable to other species detects the vibrations of boat engines they will jump clear of the water surface, becoming a hazard for boaters.
Carp watch Bighead Carp and Silver Carp

Asian Carp Alert

Asian Carp Distribution

These maps show the distribution of Bighead and Silver carp in the United States in 2010. The distribution in Kentucky has expanded since then. As of 2012, both bighead and silver carp occur commonly in the Mississippi River and the Ohio River up into the Meldahl pool. Bighead carp have been reported all of the way up into the Greenup pool. In addition to the main rivers, these species have also been found in most of their tributaries. This includes the Tennessee, Cumberland, Green and Kentucky rivers along with several others. Recently, Asian Carp have been found in the tailwaters of Taylorsville Lake (Salt River), Green River Lake (Green River) and are assumed to be in the Barren River Lake tailwaters (Barren River). Large populations of Asian Carp are found in both Kentucky and Barkley lakes in western Kentucky, and most backwater lakes in western Kentucky associated with the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Asian Carp in Kentucky

What is the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources doing about it?

Asian carp have established populations in the Ohio River and are also found in several of Kentucky’s tributaries of the river. The two main species of carps (bighead and silver) are reproducing at alarming rates and threaten the ecology of many Kentucky waters. The fish are out competing native fishes for forage, becoming over populated, and because of their propensity to jump, silver carp can be harmful to recreational boaters. Both fish species have the ability to produce over 1 million eggs per large adult each year, and where conditions are suitable for reproduction, their numbers cannot be controlled by any one agency.

KDFWR has been working with private fish processors, commercial fishermen, state and federal legislators, foreign businesses, and many local, state and federal agencies to foster interest in the removal of Asian carp and promote the ‘National Asian Carp Plan’; a plan developed and approved by personnel from many governmental agencies. Although our efforts have not gone unnoticed, funding to facilitate the Plan’s control measures has not been attained at either the state or federal level. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) has received over $200 million of federal funding to ensure that Asian carp do not reach the Great Lakes, but no federal funding has been provided to states affected by the carps but not adjacent to the Great Lakes.

Removing carp from established populations in the Mississippi River basin seems to be a low priority to state and federal governments primarily because commercial fishing is currently the only effective way to remove or destroy enough of the fish to impact their numbers; in spite of considerable research to find chemical or genetic tools to destroy the Asian carp populations. Commercialization of Asian carp is not a popular option to governmental agencies because of the potential for its financial success. There is concern that if the industry becomes too profitable, there will be political movements that will force agencies to manage the species to sustain their numbers instead of severely reducing them. Some also worry that, if profitable, a few bad actors in the industry may intentionally move Asian carp to new waters in order to increase their range and numbers. However, despite these concerns, it is understood that Commercial fishing is the only way to keep the Asian carps from outcompeting native fishes for forage and dominating the fish biomass in the Mississippi River basin. The carps will continue to proliferate and expand their range with or without the help of the potentially unscrupulous few who would purposely move them. Since 2009, Asian carp have moved past the Falls of Ohio at Louisville and reached the Greenup Pool. Kentucky’s entire border along the Ohio River, and its tributaries to the Ohio River, now has Asian carp.

There are currently two major fish processors that export Asian carp to China and Europe; both of the businesses are located in Illinois; Schafer’s Fish Farm and Big River Fish Corporation. Kentucky Fisheries, Inc. located in Livingston County pays for commercially harvested carps and transports them to Schafer’s Fish Farm. They distribute approximately 100,000 pounds of Asian carp a week during fall through spring. A few other Kentucky businesses are selling Asian carp at a very small scale. Big River Fish Corporation has discussed bringing their own distribution business into Kentucky during fall 2012, and they have plans to expand their operations in 2013. KDFWR has also been in contact with several potential businesses interested in a vacant 36,000 square-foot facility in Wickliffe, Kentucky. The Department has worked closely with the Ballard County Economic Development, the Purchase Area Development District near Paducah, and the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development in efforts to entice fish processing business to use the facility. Currently, a business is attempting to get funding to do just that.

Asian Carp

Beyond working with processors, KDFWR has been very active with efforts to approach state and federal legislators and enlighten them of ecological and economical problems associated with Asian carps. We have given presentations to two subcommittees. To date, no Kentucky legislator (state or federal) has taken the initiative to ask for the funding needed to give the commercial industry a financial nudge that would entice Asian carp processors or fishermen to become established at a larger capacity in Kentucky; and despite efforts to enlighten anglers, no private sources of funding have been identified.

In 2012, KDFWR staff has been working with the state of Pennsylvania to obtain state and federal funding since that state desperately wants to keep Asian carp from expanding further up the Ohio River. KDFWR and the Ohio River Fish Management

Team (Fisheries chiefs from all states bordering the Ohio River) have teamed up with Pennsylvania to begin work on an Ohio River Asian Carp Action Plan in hopes of getting traction on federal and state funding. KDFWR has also provided staff to serve as a delegate to MICRA (Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association) during spring visits in Washington D.C. in the past two years in an effort to educate our federal legislators about Asian carp issues beyond the Illinois River and the Great Lakes. MICRA also represents fisheries chiefs from states included in the Mississippi River basin; 40% of the United States of America. During the 2012 visit to D. C., several legislators or their staff asked for (and were given) a potential bill with specific language requesting immediate action by several Federal agencies to identify funding sources which could be applied to the National Asian Carp Plan; however, no legislator has introduced the bill to date. KDFWR’s Commissioner Gassett has also been very active at the federal level through his service to AFWA (Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies), SEAFWA (Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies), and with personal correspondences with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington D.C. KDFWR will continue its efforts to get Asian carp issues to the forefront of state and federal legislative agendas until methods are in place to reduce Asian carp numbers in Kentucky.

Beyond efforts to get Asian carp on the minds of our politicians, KDFWR has also passed a regulation that relaxes some restrictions on commercial fishing in areas where Asian carp numbers have critically affected sport fishing. The new Asian Carp Harvest Program (301 KAR 1:152) opens restricted areas to commercial fishermen if KDFWR personnel are available as observers during the fishing activity. The Department has also provided literature in the form of posters, brochures, and informational cards to educate anglers across the state about these invasive fish. Lastly, the Department has plans to get more information on carp abundance, population age structure, and growth rates. This information will help the commercial industry with their economic models and provide the federal agencies with information that may facilitate interest in funding to reduce Asian carp numbers, their reproductive potential and expansion.

Bow Fishing

Preparing and Cooking

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KDFWR Articles


With eyes at the bottom of their heads, these carp are definitely aliens

By Dave Dreves

Bighead carp and silver carp are two of the latest invaders of Kentucky’s waters. Arkansas fish farmers originally imported these carp from Asia in the 1970s to control plankton in ponds. However, these carp escaped captivity during floods and began appearing in major river drainages of the midwest and southern United States in the early 1980s. The fish have adapted extremely well to many of the tributaries, wetlands and slough lakes adjacent to the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in the western part of Kentucky. Bighead carp have migrated as far upstream on the Ohio River as the Markland pool in northern Kentucky and can be found in sections of the Tennessee, lower Cumberland, Kentucky and Green rivers as well as Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake. Silver carp are less of a big river fish and haven’t made it past Louisville on the Ohio River.

Silver carp spook easily at the sound of an approaching boat and have the unusual habit of jumping several feet out of the water… sometimes into the boat!

Bighead carp and silver carp are members of the group Hypophthalmichthys, which means “under eye fish.” The eyes of both fish are very low on the side of the head. Bighead carp may exceed 80 pounds while silver carp may top 50 pounds. Bighead carp have a dark gray back, an off-white belly, and numerous irregular black or brownish-orange blotches along the sides. Silver carp, as their name implies, are completely silver. Both fish have a ridge, or “keel,” along their bellies. This ridge extends from the tail to the first set of lower fins in the bighead carp, and from the tail to the throat of the silver carp.

The environmental impacts of these fish are not yet completely understood, but there is serious concern that these carp will harm larval fish and mussel populations by competing directly with them for food. Some larval and juvenile fish species, including most of the species important to sport fisherman, feed on plankton.

Since both of these fish are filter feeders, they are not routinely caught on conventional fishing gear but they are occasionally snagged. Both fish reportedly make good table fare for the person willing to remove the many bones and the undesirable strip of red meat along the sides.

Educating Anglers

New effort seeks to stop spread of Asian carp

By Lee McClellan

Kentucky’s fisheries officials are stepping up their campaign to educate anglers about the dangers of Asian carp.

“Anglers have to be aware of this threat,” said Ron Brooks, director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Responsible people will not want these things in their lakes and reservoirs.”

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s new education effort includes posters and wallet-sized cards warning anglers. The problem with Asian carp is that they can quickly dominate a body of water, and crowd out the native fish.

Asian carp can invade new bodies of water by accident. Anglers throwing cast nets for bait in the tailwaters of Kentucky and Barkley lakes or beneath locks and dams on the Ohio River may capture young Asian carp along with the native shad.

Young Asian carp look exceptionally similar to native baitfish. Anglers could unintentionally take the young Asian carp to other waters to use as bait, thinking they are shad.

“It is against the law to move live Asian carp,” Brooks explained. “We are starting an awareness campaign about these fish.”

The fisheries division has produced a new Asian Carp Alert poster that shows the difference between young Asian carp and native shad. A wallet-sized card is in the works.

“We are going to hang the poster at bait shops, marinas, license vendors and other places anglers gather,” said Gerry Buynak, assistant director of fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “We’ll distribute the cards in areas of the state with Asian carp. That way, people can distinguish between Asian carp and our own native species such as shad and skipjack herring.”

Asian carp inhabit the Ohio River in thick numbers from the Falls of the Ohio in Louisville downstream to the Mississippi River. They also exist in the lower reaches of major tributaries to the Ohio. Fisheries personnel recently discovered Asian carp in the Salt River below Taylorsville Lake.

These invaders grow quickly - and reproduce at rates that boggle the mind. “I’ve had reports from snaggers below Kentucky and Barkley lakes that quit going because all they get are Asian carp,” Brooks said.

Vibrations from boat motors cause one species of Asian carp, the silver carp, to spook and jump clear out of the water, creating hazardous boating conditions.

Anglers must not spread this menace to other waters in Kentucky by accident. The easy solution is also the simple solution: Use your baitfish in the same water body where you collected it.