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Asian Carp 1500x1000
Asian Carp, photo by Kate Gardiner 2009

After infiltrating Tennessee’s waterways for decades, a growing population of Asian carp is threatening to damage local ecosystems and disrupt sport fishing if policy makers can’t find a way to minimize the invasion.

A new policy brief from UT’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, When Fish Grow Like Weeds, examines strategies to manage the population and mitigate the risks associated with invasive species.

The solution to the carp invasion in Tennessee requires a threefold approach focusing on prevention, control, and surveillance, according to Charles Sims, Baker Center Faculty Fellow and co-author of the policy brief.

“Unfortunately, Asian carp are already well established in the state, so removing them from all of Tennessee’s rivers, lakes, and reservoirs isn’t a realistic goal,” Sims said. “We will have to act fast to keep populations in check . . . and keep them from invading new areas in the state.”

Although common carp have been in the United States since the 1800s, other prevalent species of Asian carp were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s to control invasive vegetation in agricultural ponds and wastewater treatment facilities. Asian carp populations have grown dramatically throughout the US and are now present in most of West Tennessee.

There are several ways to control carp, but researchers debate which is most effective. And with scant resources available for carp control, policy makers cannot afford to invest in the wrong solution.

“Fortunately, we can look to several neighboring states to learn about what approaches work,” Sims said.

One of the most effective approaches to controlling the Asian carp has been to rebrand it as a food fish. Although carp are considered an unpalatable bottom-feeding fish in the United States, they are actually a delicacy in their native China where, ironically, Asian carp populations are dwindling.

To help bring the carp to market, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has begun developing plans to provide economic incentives for their commercial harvest as well as bounty programs that pay individuals a set rate for each pound of Asian carp harvested.

Other suggestions, such as underwater sound barriers that would restrict fish movement, are still in the experimental phase, and their effectiveness has yet to be determined. No matter which approach policy makers choose to pursue, the brief urges that it is imperative something be done soon.

“Here in the Southeastern United States, we have firsthand experience with what happens when invasive species go unchecked—just look at kudzu,” Sims said. “It is very importantthat the Asian carp problem be dealt with.”

Co-authoring the policy brief alongside Sims was Benjamin Meadows, a fourth-year graduate student in UT’s Haslam College of Business.

Megan Boehnke (mboehnke@utk.edu, 865-974-3242)