“We really need this to work. If it works, and we get the money, we’re on our way to winning this thing.”
Judge Wade White was confident, but understandably apprehensive. For over a decade he had witnessed the decline of his neighborhood fishing hole, arguably once the best bass lake in the country, and time was of the essence.
“Right now, the price to fix this thing is as low as it’s ever going to be.”
By now, some of you recognize the name Wade White. Once a primary advocate in keeping Tennessee River tailrace areas open to fishing, White has turned his attention to a larger problem, posing a threat to nearly every fishery in the central United States: Asian carp.
As Kentucky pro Mark Menendez described, White “is the catalyst; the key person in this area who finally got some money from the federal government dedicated to Kentucky and Barkley Lakes.”
Together with other officials, anglers and celebrities like Menendez, and through his War on Carp Coalition, White is getting his hands dirty in the fight against carp.
Many of you will recall investigating the carp conundrum with me here in previous articles. I feel it’s time for an update for us all. As Menendez put it, “we started at ground zero on this”, as no invasive in history has put up such a fight.
Since we last checked in, Asian carp have, indeed, become a sought-after commercial fish around Kentucky Lake. Ice facilities have been built to help initial processing efforts, as carp are very susceptible to breaking down quickly once harvested, producing a soft, worthless meat.
Current efforts are producing fish for food, construction uses (carp bones are used to produce temperature-tolerant concrete) and even commercial fishing purposes, where the fish are sold as lobster bait.
One big hurdle that continues to exist, however, is cost-effective processing and shipment of the commodity. Some of the biggest potential markets are overseas. “There’s demand,” White stressed, “but they’re so far away.”
In the immediacy, more needs to be done to make carp harvest profitable. In any business, cash is king.
“It’s difficult to pay enough,” White admits. “Right now, the State (of Kentucky) pays a five-cent subsidy. We’re asking for more money from Congress; even individual counties are looking into ways to provide a subsidy.”
Menendez confirms that prices “need to be around 25 cents per pound to make everyone happy.” Current prices range from 13 to 21 cents, depending on the size of the fish.
If larger markets can be opened, with more profit coming from the sale of carp, such should easily increase commercial effort and thus reduce fish numbers. Right now, the progress is slow. “It’s a trickle as far as numbers, but it’s happening; it’s a positive,” Menendez noted.
Of even greater importance is timing, as we previously alluded. In fact, things may now be lining up for a large-scale carp annihilation.
Beginning this year, the Tennessee River locks at Kentucky Lake are scheduled to close to barges as a new locking system is put in place as part of a maintenance project. Such will temporarily hold up the invaders. “The fish are getting in through the locking of commercial vessels,” Menendez insists. `
In addition, funds have now been allocated to build a series of test barriers – beginning at the dam below Lake Barkley – that would activate each time a commercial barge comes through. The barriers combine bubbles, sound and light to deter carp, but not influence other species.
White confirmed that the Barkley test barrier will be put in place, with results monitored by Fish and Game personnel to determine effectiveness. All fingers are crossed in the meantime, and results don’t have to be stellar to be deemed a victory. “We’re hoping for 70 or 80 percent (limitation of carp),” White admitted.
While new markets are being pursued and carp are more heavily marketed as a food fish, White is quick to point out that there’s no desire for a sustained market in his home lake. “We don’t want to create a market that will last; we want them gone.”
Once carp numbers are thinned throughout the reservoirs, the river systems below each could serve as the primary target to commercial interest. In fact, Menendez stressed that new processing facilities are already considering these areas for future construction.
While carp threats to the Great Lakes steal most of the press and attention in Washington, White maintains his local issue is of utmost importance. “Kentucky and Tennessee have been sort of left out,” he argues, adding that the waterways of the central U.S. are vital to ensure “the carp aren’t pushing forward up north.” In essence, the Tennessee River waterways have turned into the point/source problem for carp all across America, possibly requiring the most attention.
“We hope that the people fighting to keep (carp) out of the Great Lakes will join us and realize that, if we win, they win” White added.
White’s latest ally may be his greatest. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell understands the economic impact of fishing in Kentucky, and the decimation Asian carp could bring to the industry. Working closely with White, McConnell is a driving force behind funding the war on carp.
My interviews confirmed both concern and optimism for the carp issue in Kentucky. Recent government support adds hope. However, White’s initial statement couldn’t be more true.
We really need this thing to work.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)