Tribune-Courier News Reporter
Local tourism officials fear the expansion of the Asian carp population in Kentucky’s waters, as it would harm sport fishing in the region – negatively affecting local tourism as much as 40 percent.
Asian carp have become a problem in the region because they are out competing native fish.
Two species of Asian carp – bighead and silver – are reproducing at alarming rates and are threatening native species of fish for vegetation and plankton, and because of the carp’s tendency to jump from the water the fish can be dangerous for boaters.
Not only are the invasive carp causing concern for native sport fish, if not controlled the overpopulation of the Asian fish might hurt the local economy.
Executive Director of the Marshall County Tourist Commission Randy Newcomb said if something isn’t done in the next three to four years to help manage the Asian carp populations the local economy would start losing out on its yearly visitors.
“More than 40 percent of our visitors are here for sport fishing,” he said. “If you take away 40 percent of our visitors you could take away 40 percent of the economic impact that tourism has. Your looking at $40 to $50 million of economic impact. It’s a huge chunk of our tourism.”
Newcomb also said if the population of the Asian carp became too large then the lakes could be facing potential safety hazards.
The Asian carp are known for jumping out of the water, Newcomb said that tourists and anglers won’t want to come boat on the water because of the potential dangers. There have already been instances of boaters being hit by jumping fish on the waters in western Kentucky.
“There’s nothing we can do to get rid of the Asian carp,” he said. “The only way to get rid of them is to get rid of every fish in the waters.”
Newcomb said that the best hope the region has is that the Asian carps numbers can be reduced so that native species won’t be impacted.
No federal funding is being provided to stop the overpopulation of Asian carp, but the federal government does want to stop the invasive species migration from impacting the Great Lakes.
“From what I understand the federal funding is going to the regions near the Great Lakes to keep the Asian carp from harming that region,” he said. “What they don’t realize or understand is that one of the best ways to make sure those fish don’t get up there is to help limit the population of them in this region. They’re trying to put up a barrier which is going to overrun all the waters below that barrier.”
Newcomb said Ron Brooks, fisheries director for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, is wanting to create fishing tournaments that are geared specifically toward catching the Asian carp plaguing the region’s waters.
“We would be willing as a commission to get involved because it’s important for our area,” he said.
Newcomb said Brooks is wanting to have an Asian carp fishing tournament in the fall and possibly the spring.
Another effort Newcomb thinks is important in fighting the overpopulation of the Asian carp is educating the public about the species.
“Our native carp are bottom feeders,” he said. “The Asian carp eat vegetation so they are a very clean fish. Many people have said that the meat that comes from the fish is as good, if not better than, the white crappie.”
Newcomb said there might even be an effort to rename the Asian carp, because of the negative connotation linked to the name.
While the Asian carp is a serious problem for the local economy, he said that if sport fishing decreased in western Kentucky the tourist commission would focus on new ways to bring in tourism revenue.