Politics

Kentucky wildlife officials say the state needs to combat Asian carp, an invasive species that is disturbing the ecosystem in Kentucky’s western lakes.

According to the National Parks Service, Asian carp were introduced to U.S. fish farms in the 1970s to control weed and parasite growth and eventually escaped into the Mississippi River.

Since then, the quick-breeding fish have made it to Mississippi River tributaries like the Ohio River and Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley in the westernmost part of the state.

“They’re aggressive, they populate, they’re very prolific, they look like shad when they’re small,” said Gregory Johnson, commissioner of Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“They feed at the lower end of the food chain. So they’re competing with shad for food.”

Asian carp have been disrupting U.S. ecosystems by out-competing native species for food. They can also jump out of the water — sometimes striking boaters or jumping over small dams.

Johnson said the state is trying to find market-based solutions to cull the Asian carp population — they need more fisherman to go out and catch them.

“Right now the only way to control these carp is to just fish the heck out of them, he said. “We don’t have a magic bullet that researchers have come up with to control them.”

Johnson said about 5 million pounds of the fish need to come out of Kentucky’s lakes and rivers every year to “maintain current ecosystem balance.”

The state has requested companies to submit proposals for a “harvesting and distribution” initiative to get the fish out of the lakes and into restaurants or stores.

Sometimes marketed as “Kentucky blue snapper,” commercial fishermen already harvest more than 2 million pounds of Asian carp in Kentucky to serve in restaurants around the state and around the world.

“We are fairly confident there’s a demand there for 9.5 million to 30 million pounds of carp annually to meet the commercial demand that’s out there,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the contract for an Asian carp harvesting and distribution company will be awarded early next year.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.