Barrier system under construction

LAUREL BLACK | The Sun

David Lambert, managing director of Fish Guidance Systems, discusses the bio-acoustic fish fence soon to be installed at Barkley Lock & Dam. The system uses lights and sound to deter invasive Asian carp from entering the area it blocks, and it will be subject to a three-year evaluation period after it's finished this fall.

GRAND RIVERS -- The latest project in an ongoing, multi-agency effort to combat the spread of an invasive species of fish is underway at Barkley Dam, and will likely see completion this fall.

Construction has begun on an experimental bio-acoustic fish fence, commonly abbreviated as BAFF, that's meant to deter Asian carp from passing into Lake Barkley. The fence at Barkley Dam will be evaluated over the course of the next three years, although the contractor and various agencies involved are hopeful to see preliminary results by the end of spring 2020.

"If it's demonstrated successful here, it can be installed at Kentucky (Dam) and other places along the Mississippi River Basin," said David Lambert, managing director of Fish Guidance Systems, the United Kingdom-based company that's contracted to install the system.

The system uses a combination of sound and light to deter the carp from crossing the barrier; the carp can then be collected and removed from the water, Lambert said.

The acoustic fish fence differs from the electric systems in use in other parts of the United States, he added.

"This (BAFF system) is deemed a lot safer," he said.

Barkley Dam was a fitting place for the test run because Asian carp are already present in the lake, so it will be easier to evaluate whether the system works. The high level of inter-agency cooperation to manage the carp population also contributed to the decision to install the system at Barkley, Lambert added.

"The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife offices have been very supportive. Everyone has helped," he said. "Everyone is working together, and I think that's primarily the reason (it's being installed here) -- the support."

The installation was originally scheduled for completion at the end of this week, but higher-than-average water levels and a planned six-week closure of the dam have delayed the project. Crews will return in September, and Lambert is hopeful the fence will be finished by Oct. 1.

Officials from the Lakes region, as well as representatives the fish and wildlife agencies of Kentucky and Tennessee, the Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Geological Survey and the federal fish and wildlife service were present last Tuesday. They expressed optimism in the project, which represents one of several initiatives that could help reduce the carp population.

"In general, the test is very important in Kentucky. From the experiments I've seen, I see no reason that it wouldn't work," said Ron Brooks, fisheries director at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. "I think we're going to get a handle on these Asian carp."

He noted the multi-pronged approach to controlling the carp population.

Subsidies at the state and county levels, as well as the development of the Kentucky Fish House and Asian carp processing plant Two Rivers Fisheries, have created greater incentives for commercial fisherman to aggressively fish for the carp.

"We're on pace to harvest 5 million pounds of Asian carp from Kentucky and Barkley (lakes). That's over double what we've had in the previous years," Brooks said. "I've been getting calls, believe it or not, that people are seeing fewer (carp) already. That's a great sign."

Other initiatives include a partnership between states and contract fishermen, who are beginning to employ different fishing methods, including the "unified method;" the use of "micro-particles" that specifically disrupt the Asian carp life cycle; employing environmental DNA to track Asian carp migration; and large-scale removal efforts, said Allan Brown, assistant regional director for fish and aquatic conservation at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region.

"We have a lot of work to do, obviously, but together, we are really bringing this innovative technology. This is certainly a piece of it," Brown said, referring to the bio-acoustic fish fence.

The invasive fish, which were brought to the United States decades ago, threaten the fishing and tourism industries in Kentucky, Tennessee and several other states because they out-compete the native fish that recreational fishermen prefer. Silver carp, which are a type of Asian carp, are also known to jump out of the water when startled by sounds, posing hazards to boaters on silver carp-infested waters.

Brown said, in a best-case scenario, the carp population could see a notable decrease in the next five years; however, the situation will likely need to be monitored "forever."

"No system is going to be 100 percent effective," he said. "But as you start to whittle down (the carp numbers), you are going to get a population that's manageable. You're never going to eradicate them from the system -- although that's the goal -- but you'll get them to a point where they're not affecting the native species and the natural ecosystems."

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