The six-member board of directors for a local non-profit will pour over the feedback from approximately 200 people who attended a public informational meeting last week and decide whether or not they've garnered enough support and manpower to pull off a two- or three-day fundraising festival. The funds from that festival, which the board hopes will reach at least $2 million, would be used in the battle against Asian carp in the lakes and, maybe even more importantly, the negative perception of Kentucky and Barkley lakes due to the invasive species.
Matt Quinn, owner of HITEC Outdoors, said his bait and tackle revenue is down 47.5% and the fishing license sales are down 63.7% from 2012, which was the best year for bait and tackle and before the Asian carp became prominent in the lakes.
Part of the problem is the invasive species itself and the effect it's having on the game fish populations, Quinn said, but noted the perception is the biggest hurdle our area has to overcome now. He referenced a short video clip taken the day the BAFF (bio acoustic fish fence) was installed at Barkley Dam and how quickly that spread across the nation through news media and social media. The video depicts an enormous response from large fish jumping out of the water around a small boat.
Quinn recalled in detail an epiphany he had while on a flight out west, an epiphany which sparked the idea for the festival he hopes will gain steam. He pitched a number of ideas for the festival including live concerts by stars with name recognition (like Trace Adkins and Carrie Underwood) and local artists playing a variety of genres at multiply locations--hoping to draw crowds as large as 50,000 and live streaming for those unable to attend in person--and informational seminars between sets; Asian carp tasting because "some people are unaware of how good it is"; a vendor showcase featuring those associate with buying, processing and selling Asian carp; Asian carp bow fishing tournament; commercial fishing tournament; fishing with the stars -- thinking big names again; kids fishing tournament; scavenger hunt poker run; golf tournament; 3D archery tournament with Asian carp targets.
He was visibly excited while pitching the idea of a 50/50 raffle, referencing the West Side Nut Club near Evansville which raised $1.2 million using that method.
But what it's going to take, Quinn said, is buy-in from the community.
"Ideas are easy, execution is hard. We can't rely on the War on Carp, we can't rely on the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, and we can't rely on the federal government to do it. We have to do it; that's how we're going to get it done."
The funds raised could be used to fund Asian carp commercial fishing activities, offering resources and incentive; game fish habitat restoration; building and upgrading fishing facilities (such as cleaning stations) and boat ramps; major fishing tournaments.
Mike McManus of Marshall County was among the attendees and signed up to serve on several committees during the breakout session following the informational meeting at Kentucky Dam State Resort Park Convention Center last week. He said he's on board because he's losing business and he sees the negative impact on other locally-owned businesses as well.
"I've lost eight clients this year who were devout fishermen and the people who bought their homes don't care about fishing--but I realized that if this affects me as a commercial mowing guy, it also affects the grocery stores and gas stations and it's a trickle-down effect to the resorts and it just doesn't stop. It affects each one of us in some facet," he explained. "And it's bigger than just carp. We're starting to see resorts ready to sell with no one wanting to buy them. This is an opportunity for the community to come together for something good."
McManus said it's hard to sit back and wait for someone else to do something about it. He referenced the group that raised $1.2 million, saying it started with someone having the idea and believing in that idea, then more people investing in that idea to make it happen.
"I absolutely believe we can make this happen," he added. "Matt Quinn's concept is bigger than him and his business. He's thinking about this entire county and he's thinking about other states and he's saying we need to take the lead here in Kentucky. We have to get out of the box and truly start thinking of ideas so everybody, even the people who don't fish, can get involved."
Ron Lappin, a board member who also co-chairs the tournament committee, said he's been in the fishing business in Marshall County for more than 40 years and recently retired from FLW as a professional tournament organizer and tournament director.
"I bleed Marshall County -- and I know what we used to have and I know what we've got now," he said. "Don't get me wrong, the carp is a problem but the perception is an even bigger problem than the carp. The fishing is not good but it's better than we're getting credit for. I hate to see all the negativity that surrounds the issue."
Lappin said he was recently invited to speak at the Kentucky Leadership Conference and conducted a 40-minute presentation regarding the 27 businesses in the Purchase area, including states not in Kentucky, that either built part of or all of the outdoor equipment we use for outdoor sports. At the end of his presentation when he opened the floor for questions, they were all about the carp: 'When we ride the boat back to the marina tonight, will we see carp? Will they jump? Can we get hurt?'
"And the answer to all of those questions is, 'Yes, you could.' What they came for was to find out what's being done business-wise and it just really sunk in with me that we have a problem they don't understand," he recalled. "I've always said it's a shame that until some senator's family member from eastern Kentucky or northern Kentucky gets hit in the face with a carp and I hope they don't get hurt, nobody is really going to realize how bad the problem is."
Lappin said the festival idea may not be the answer, "but we can't afford to not do something." He referenced businesses and lakefront homes for sale that aren't getting market value and there are major tournaments moving to different bodies of water.
"All of this is because of the perception," he explained. "This can't continue."
The board of directors for Asian Carp Aid includes Quinn, Chris Onnybecker of Bee Spring Lodge & Kentucky Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, Ray Barga of R. Barga & Co. Insurance, Ron Lappin who "bleeds Marshall County," FLW Tour Pro Terry Bolton and lakefront property owner Kenny Ernst.