County aims to prevent carp invasion

Andrew Poulson fishes for bass beneath Fort Loudoun Dam.

Loudon County officials and concerned residents received welcomed news last week regarding a potential invasion of Asian carp in local waterways.

Gov. Bill Lee signed Executive Order No. 62 on Sept. 23 establishing a statewide Asian Carp Advisory Committee to study and help mitigate an invasion of the destructive species into lakes and rivers.

“Tennessee’s lakes and rivers are a critical feature of our state’s economy and natural beauty,” Lee said in a news release. “This commission will help us protect and preserve native fish species, aquatic life, commercial and recreational fishing and other water activities from the increasing threat of Asian carp to key ecosystems in our state.”

Members of the committee will include representatives from Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission, Department of Economic and Community Development, Department of Tourist Development, Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Valley Authority, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and one appointee each from the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House of Representatives.

The commission will provide interim reports starting in October, in addition to annual reports and studies.

Joe McCaul, Tellico Village resident and Stop Silver Carp in TN founder, hopes the commission will take immediate action.

“I think the concern that people I’ve spoken with have regarding the commission that’s to be formed is it’s largely the usual suspects who are into studying, monitor and assess and not, ‘We need to take drastic action’,” McCaul said. “I think we’re continuing to press the message because I think in the western part of the state, people have a pretty good idea about what the Asian carp issue is. I think it kind of ends there, and most of the people that we’re running into on social media have no idea.”

Timothy Joseph, Watts Bar Ecology and Fishery Council chairman, noted concerns with the newly formed committee and believes lake locks in the Upper Tennessee River Basin should be closed immediately.

Joseph said the problem with shutting down locks stems from barges traveling the Tennessee River.

“The money that has been spent entirely has been spent to mitigate, and it’s just gnawing on me,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of politicians, we’ve even got a governor now putting together a commission ... all well and good, but if you look at what they’re going to do, 90 percent, if not 99 percent, is mitigation. This is absolutely absurd because no one is talking about prevention. We have got four lakes in the Upper Tennessee River Basin that don’t have the silver carp. Guess what, they’re the only freaking lakes left. Nobody is saying, ‘Look, we need to prioritize prevention so that we don’t later have to spend millions and millions year after year to mitigate the (expletive) fish’.”

Asian carp pose a serious threat to local waterways and are currently destroying aquatic ecosystems throughout the Mississippi River by competing for space and food with other species of fish.

Asian carp can live 20 or more years and grow to greater than 4 feet in length and weigh 75 pounds. The fish are easily startled and have been known to leap out of the water and injure boaters and passengers.

U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, believes an invasion could be detrimental for the county recreationally and economically. In August, Burchett sent an appropriations request letter to the U.S. Department of Interior for $25 million in funding for aid and prevention.

“Folks here in Tellico (Village) contacted me about the issue, and I knew enough about it because I had seen the YouTube videos and it’s almost horrific,” Burchett said. “The reality is it’s life or death for our lakes and streams. They’re an invasive species from Asia, and we’ve got to do something about it. That’s why I wrote the president, and he’s very concerned about it.”

Hundreds of county residents have stepped up to build the Stop Silver Carp in TN volunteer organization in a short amount of time.

McCaul founded the organization last year in hopes of creating awareness about the threat Loudon County lakes face with a potential invasion. An Asian carp sighting was reported on Chickamauga Lake in January, but TWRA has confirmed no reports since.

“The net result is for us to get to a solution is we need to have a much stronger public demand for real action where all of the Tennessee congressional delegation is getting heavy volume of phone calls and letters from their constituents and emulate more of what happened in Minnesota,” McCaul said. “That caused the politicians to actually push through an act of Congress to close the upper locks on the Mississippi (River). We don’t have that level of public knowledge and support in Tennessee, and therefore, it’s not getting the level of attention that it really should.”

Joseph is pushing for barriers to be constructed along local dams and locks. He suggests bio-acoustic electric barriers will be more effective than acoustic sound barriers.

TVA announced four projects Aug. 5 to combat Asian carp in the Tennessee River. The first of these projects is a Programmatic Environmental Assessment in which fish barriers are being evaluated at 10 locks within the TVA system.

“Each mile of shoreline of our lakes brings in a million dollars to the local economy every year,” Joseph said. “Watts Bar Lake has 722 miles of shoreline — that’s $722 million to the local economy when you add up everything that’s involved with the lakes. Drop that by 50 percent, it’s half of the $722 million. That’s what we’re going to lose. It’s not even possible that they won’t get to Loudon, Lenoir City, to Watts Bar to Melton Hill — they will if we don’t stop them. The only way to stop them, really, is with electric barriers. Yes, maybe 98 percent of them are not going to get past the (sound) barrier ... I don’t care if it’s 2 percent or 1 percent, it doesn’t matter because that’s enough to cause a problem.”

If locks are not shut down and barriers successfully installed, projections for an invasion in Loudon County range from a year to five years. McCaul said “the truth is that no one knows for sure.”

Joseph said there is a possibility some Asian carp are currently in Watts Bar and Fort Loudoun lakes.

“Obviously, we’re going to have to get more money and people are going to have to continue to push because there’s always another issue that comes down the pike,” Burchett said. “You’re either on the table or on the menu, and unfortunately right now, we’re kind of on the menu because the fish are invasive and they are coming this way and we know it. We’re going to have to stop it.”

For more information and updates, visit the Stop Silver Carp in TN Facebook page or visit online at https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/fish/asian-carp.html.