Kentucky officials are hoping a noise-making, bubbling “fish fence” will help stop the spread of destructive Asian carp.
At Kentucky’s Barkley Dam on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others gathered to commission the new bioacoustic fish fence near a lock at the bottom of the dam. The $7 million, three-year field trial will help wildlife officials determine whether the device effectively keeps Asian carp from entering the lock and moving upstream.
The fence works as a deterrent by broadcasting noise at a frequency that irritates the carp. The noise is contained within a wall of bubbles that are lit by strobes. The combination has worked well in the laboratory and in smaller-scale outdoor settings.
Asian carp is a catch-all term for four species of invasive carp that have spread up the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico as far as Wisconsin and into the Missouri and Ohio rivers and other smaller tributaries.
For the first large-scale test, wildlife officials chose Barkley, which straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border, in part because Asian carp are already established there, making it easy to track their movements. Also, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources already had a fulltime crew there monitoring the Asian carp population.
Kentucky Aquatic Nuisance Species Program Director Ron Brooks said staff members have been catching and tagging both Asian carp and native species with transmitters ahead of the fish fence installation. Now they will carefully observe their movements and interactions with the fence.
The trial is scheduled to run for three years, but Brooks said officials are full of anticipation over what the early results will be.
“If it looks really good by the summer of next year there is going to be a push to bring the research to other sites,” he said. “They’re going to look for where the next best places are to test.”
Silver and bighead carp eat the plankton that serve as the primary food source for mussels, larval fish, and several adult fishes. Black carp eat mussels and snails, some of the most imperiled aquatic species in the U.S. Grass carp eat aquatic vegetation, altering habitats.
In addition, silver carp jump out of the water when disturbed by boats. “They get slime and blood everywhere and hurt equipment,” Brooks said.
Speaking at the Friday event, McConnell said he has secured $25 million for Asian carp control in the Senate version of the upcoming budget, which he called a record amount.
The money will help “protect Kentucky’s $1.2 billion fishing industry and help it continue to grow,” McConnell said.
But the fish fence is about more than just protecting Lake Barkley. Part of the money for the project comes from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, said Charles Wooley, Great Lakes regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wooley said if the technology works, it will be transferable to other regions and can help keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.