Bio-acoustic fish fence to aid Asian carp battle in lakes

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo

Josh Tompkins, fisheries biologist; Matt Combs, fisheries biologist; and Nathan Rister, fisheries technician; Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, demonstrate electrofishing for Asian carp on the Cumberland River next to Barkley Dam in Grand Rivers earlier this summer.

The collaboration between local, state and federal agencies to creatively deal with the increasing Asian carp population in the lakes area will be highlighted Nov. 8 at Barkley Lock and Dam.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will participate in a ceremony to showcase the deployment of a bio-acoustic fish fence to deter the spread of the invasive species in southern waters.

Featured speakers will include U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. James Comer and a number of other officials including: Allan Brown, assistant regional director for Fish and Aquatic Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Major Justin Toole, deputy commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District; Ron Brooks, Asian carp program director, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources; Frank Fiss, chief of fisheries, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; and Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White.

The spread of four species of Asian carp - bighead, black, grass and silver - are threatening the Southeast's aquatic biodiversity and local outdoor economies. In recent years, the established invaders have expanded into southern waters like Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake.

The goal of the bio-acoustic fish fence is to reduce the use of the locks by Asian carp, helping to protect hundreds of river miles that remain relatively untouched by carp in the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. A field trial for the bio-acoustic system will continue for a three-year period.

The bio-acoustic fish fence invented by Fish Guidance Systems, LTD, a company based in the United Kingdom, was designed to herd migrating fish around water intakes and dams in Europe. It is described by company officials as a "behavioral barrier" that requires less maintenance than a physical barrier, such as a screen or an electric barrier.

"The way I understand it, it's going all the time. It releases bubbles, has flashing lights and it has sound," said White. "And the purpose of that is to freak this fish out and keep them back."

The system will be positioned below the dam in the entrance where barges lock through, according to White.

"The majority of these fish reproduce on the rivers. What they're (Asian carp) doing is swimming along with the barges checking through the locks and getting into the lakes. So, the purpose is to keep them far enough away from the lock doors as they open up, so the fish won't be swimming through the lock and going through to our lakes."

White said while other species of fish like bass, catfish and crappie can swim through the bio-acoustic fish fence, "the tests they've done in lab indicate the Asian carp won't.

"Let's say it's 70 or 80 percent (effective), you know, that's incredible," White said. "It's a game-changer for us because we can then concentrate on the lakes, fish them out of the lakes and keep them under control on the lakes and start to try and fish them out of the rivers."

If the bio-acoustic systems proves effective, its use will likely be expanded, he said.

According to White, if the $25 million McConnell has secured in the federal budget gets approved, "we plan to buy nine of these for other locks and dams."