The good news is help may be on the way for dealing with the invasive Asian carp growing on Kentucky and Barkley lakes. The bad news is it's not coming any time soon.
Agriculture, wildlife and economic development leaders met Tuesday in Eddyville to discuss ways to reduce carp populations in the short term. State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Ron Brooks, fisheries director for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, led the discussion with about two dozen community members and local officials.
For now, Brooks said the best way to keep numbers manageable is to continue commercial tournaments.
"We have to find some creative way to get fishermen in there fishing for them," Brooks said. "We don't have the infrastructure in Kentucky to give the fishermen interest to go in and fish them. That carp madness tournament did that for two days."
Brooks said there is no funding available for another tournament, but the department is hoping area businesses and fishermen will help raise funds for another this fall. If the department can generate $25,000 through donations, Brooks said they would plan another carp harvesting in late October or early November.
Brooks said he did not expect help from the federal level in funding eradication efforts. Mitigation efforts at the state and local level will continue to be developed, but help may come from entrepreneurs. Brooks said the tournament helped generate interest from individuals looking to open plants to process large amounts of the fish.
"We used to get those calls from the very beginning," Brooks said. "I now get calls almost every other day that do have the finances to do something. The markets are there, the problem is we can only pay commercial fisherman about 8 cents a pound to fish them."
Brooks said the average rate in the still growing domestic market is less than half what commercial fisherman can get from other fish. There is no subsidy on Asian carp, although that has been proposed as a solution to the lack of commercial harvesting interests.
The town hall format allowed guests to get input from Brooks and Comer on what state and federal efforts are underway to reduce the Asian carp populations, which threatens the number of native species in local lakes and rivers.
"We wanted to kind of bring some of the stakeholders together and try to see if there's something we can do to make some lemonade out of some lemons," Comer said.
Comer and staff were in the area touring 13 western Kentucky counties this week to review agricultural practices and meet with producers. Comer said the area is the epicenter for agricultural production in Kentucky.
The carp creates an obstacle to that production, along with other industries.
Chad Harpole, a lobbyist for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said many members are concerned about the growing fish population.
"We've got a lot of members that are interested in this issue," Harpole said. "Some of our larger members... understand that if Asian carp continue to get worse, and by all indication they are, we could have some major transportation issues on our waterways. Additionally, we could have a tourism issue."