TVA sets Asian carp deterrence plan

James Davis enjoys a sunny afternoon fishing on Tellico Lake.

Tennessee Valley Authority approved Dec. 17 a plan to place barriers at seven dams along the Tennessee River to combat the spread of Asian carp in the state.

“TVA finalized an environmental assessment to determine if Asian carp barriers should be installed along the dams in the Tennessee River,” Scott Fiedler, TVA spokesperson, said. “And we have found that installing the barriers would not impact the dam structure or swordfish or other fish in the system. And with that, the multi-agency group that includes TWRA, Kentucky Fishing and Wildlife, Alabama Fishing and Wildlife, the federal fishing and wildlife, among others, can move forward with installing the barriers, pending congressional funding.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., released a statement supporting the plan and acknowledged Tellico Village’s help in the matter.

“These proposed barriers will help protect these assets that are crucial to East Tennessee’s economic health,” Burchett said. “Advocacy by local stakeholders, especially the Tellico Village Property Owners Association, helped make TVA’s recommendation possible. I look forward to working with our community, TVA and my colleagues in Congress to make these barriers a reality.”

Joe McCaul, Tellico Village resident and Stop Silver Carp in TN founder, said the action won’t be enough.

“I think what is really needed are electric barriers, however, the TVA has no interest in that,” McCaul said. “The path that they’re taking of saying they will eventually put up barriers that are the bio-acoustic fish fence and CO2 bubblers at all seven is certainly better than nothing, but the effectiveness of those at stopping the carp is at this point known only to them. … The press release said it will deter the carp, which is not the same as stopping the carp.”

Fiedler said the barrier will make a difference.

“It’s a barrier that has been tested up at Barkley, on the Cumberland, and has been determined to be successful in preventing the movement of Asian carp into the lock chamber when they open and close,” Fiedler said. “This is a combination of sounds, strobe lights and carbon dioxide bubbles that keep the Asian carp away from the lock chambers, the doors, when they open. That prevents them from moving upstream or downstream.”

The priority, according to Fiedler, will be to place the first two barriers at the Kentucky and Wilson dams to box in the invasive fish.

“There’s two dams up there that go into the Ohio,” he said. “So you slam the doors shut on the Ohio and don’t let anybody else in. And then you slam the doors up in the Tennessee, in Wilson, and now you squeeze them to reduce the population and hopefully any impact they are to the system.”

An angler claims to have spotted an Asian carp in Chickamauga Lake in 2019, which has caused great concern. Fiedler said TVA and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency have found no evidence to support the claim.

“TWRA and TVA did an extensive study last summer from Knoxville all the way down to Guntersville and did not find any evidence of silver carp in the system there,” Fiedler said. “According to the experts on the team, the carp — the leading edge of the carp — are in Pickwick reservoir, and that’s why the team decided that you could install a barrier at Wilson to stop them. You install the other barrier down at Kentucky so no other fish can come up in, and you use mitigation methods, for example fishing, to remove the carp.”

McCaul said he was not convinced by the study.

“Basically, you cannot prove a negative,” he said. “The only correct answer is ‘I don’t know.’ If I catch one, then I do know. But I think the idea of going out and looking for a needle in a haystack and not finding one, and therefore concluding there are none, is an unsupportable conclusion.”

McCaul said he was also concerned by the delayed response tied to funding.

“They said they would put up barriers at all seven locks if and when funding becomes available,” McCaul said. “Well, I guess that’s another problem, because who knows when and if that might be. I think between the state of Tennessee, the federal government, TVA, a better plan needs to be implemented. If that is their plan, it needs to be implemented promptly.”

William Bensur, communications director for Burchett, admitted the process would take time.

“What happens now in this process is it goes through the congressional appropriation process for the next fiscal year, which would be 2023,” Bensur said. “Those requests get made over the next couple of months, so there’s not going to be any action on it for a little while here.”