Asian Carp Information

Asian Carp in Kentucky            

In Kentucky, Asian carp have reproductively established populations from the Cannelton Pool of the Ohio River to the Mississippi River. The invasive fish are found in most of Kentucky’s tributaries of the two large rivers and in two of our most prominent reservoirs: Kentucky and Barkley lakes. Three species of carps (bighead, silver, and grass) are reproducing at alarming rates and threaten Kentucky’s aquatic ecology. The fish are outcompeting native fishes for forage, becoming over populated, and because of their propensity to jump, silver carp can be harmful to recreational boaters. These 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 agency efforts alone.


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 ‘2007 National Asian Carp Management Plan’; a plan developed and approved by personnel from many governmental agencies.


The Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association (MICRA) is comprised of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fisheries divisions of 28 state fish and wildlife agencies, USGS, USFS, and the USACE. In 2010, KDFWR began to engage MICRA concerning the lower Mississippi basin’s Asian carp issues and we have taken a leading role in procuring USFWS assistance and funding since that time. Each year since 2011, MICRA has sent state delegates to Washington D.C. in an effort to educate Congress and their staffs about Asian Carp issues beyond the upper Illinois River where Asian carp threaten to invade the Great Lakes. The effort to prevent Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes has received a tremendous amount of attention and funding. However, the rest of the Mississippi River basin was previously left out of discussions concerning funding resources to control or reduce their numbers and to prevent large-scale expansion up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.


In 2014, largely as a result of the MICRA delegation visits, Congress amended the Water Resource Reform and Development ACT (WRRDA) to help states fight Asian carp. The USFWS was awarded $2.3 million to assist states in the upper Mississippi River and upper Ohio River (above the McAlpine Lock and Dam). States in each sub-basin working with the USFWS were provided $400,000 in 2015 which was divided among the states. Kentucky received $235,000 of the $400,000 provided to Ohio river states in 2015 to assist with Asian carp monitoring, movement, control, and rapid response efforts. In 2016, the USFWS was given $2.6 million by Congress, and Kentucky is to receive a minimum of $235,000 for the Asian carp projects. Additional to those funds, every state with an aquatic nuisance species plan receives about $23,000 annually to fight aquatic nuisance species (ANS). MICRA’s efforts in the past few years have resulted in doubling the annual ANS fund received from the USFWS to $46,000. The proceeds from each of those funds are highly leveraged by funding that KDFWR has dedicated to managing Asian carp in our waters. This Department continues to take a leadership role to compel states and the federal government to reach a level of effort and funding that will make the 2007 National Asian carp plan viable and ultimately make the control of Asian carp throughout the Mississippi River basin a reality.


The increase in funding to fight Asian carp has allowed KDFWR to increase its staff accordingly. Today we have three crews stationed in Frankfort and one in western Kentucky who are dedicated to our aquatic nuisance species efforts. Those crews head state efforts to assess movement habits of the carps using sonic telemetry, they annually are assessing carp abundance relative to other fish species in the Ohio River, and they are on the water every week with a goal of removing every Asian carp they can find. Additional to that work, KDFWR is leading efforts to begin testing harvest methodologies and new sound and pheromone technologies developed by the USGS that will help us and the commercial industry harvest more fish. Our goal is to find ways to enhance Asian carp processing businesses; our most important resource concerning large-scale removal of these invasive fish.


In 2013, KDFWR held the first ever commercial fishing tournament (Carp Madness 2013) in Kentucky and Barkley lakes. Since that tournament, KDFWR has received many requests for information concerning establishing fish processing plants that would make products from Asian carp. By 2015, three processors had been established, and their facilities have led to the harvest of over 1.2 million pounds of Asian carp in 2015; over 800,000 pounds from Kentucky and Barkley lakes. KDFWR assisted those businesses in getting started and we have developed special regulations to facilitate their efforts to remove Asian carp from Kentucky and Barkley lakes and other waters where commercial fishing in not allowed. Challenges remain to the new industry which is focused on harvesting mainly Asian carp, and KDFWR will continue to work with those businesses and to help them expand to meet the insatiable market of which surrounds Asian carp. Commercial harvest is the only means of which we have to realistically reduce Asian carp numbers in those two important reservoirs, and KDFWR will do everything we can to promote additional harvest.


KDFWR will continue to update this website in an effort to let everyone know that we have not turned away from issues posed by the invasive Asian carps. We will continue to press for technologies and funding avenues that will ensure our efforts can be expanded. We appreciate everyone’s support in this effort.


Annual Report to Congress on the Summary of Activities and Expenditures to Manage the Threat of Asian Carp in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River Basins


In 2014, the President signed into law the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA)authorizing completion of a broad array of agency actions and public projects across the United States. As a part of WRRDA, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was authorized, in collaboration with other government agencies, to take actions to slow, and eventually eliminate, the spread of Asian carp in the Upper Mississippi River Basin (UMRB) and Ohio River Basin (ORB) and tributaries. Those actions include providing technical assistance, coordination, best practices, and support to state and local governments engaged in activities to decrease and eventually eliminate that threat. The USFWS provides an annual report to the U.S. Congress summarizing strategies, expenditures, and progress in addressing the threat of Asian carp in the UMRB and ORB and their tributaries.  These reports are issued annually.  The 2014 report as well as the most recent report in 2015 are available here as a PDFs:


2014 Annual Report to Congress on the Threat and Management of Asian Carp


2015 Annual Report to Congress on the Threat and Management of Asian Carp




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 Distribution

These maps show the range expansion and distribution of Asian Carp in the Upper Missouri River (UMRB) and Ohio River Basins (ORB)(basins shaded grey). Green circles represent occurrences from the USGS NAS Database before 2012. Red triangles indicate occurrences from 2012 through 2014.  The distribution in Kentucky has expanded in recent years.  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 Distribution

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.