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Article submitted to the News Sentinel:

Asian Carp Fish Fence Fallacy

The Nov 10th article in the Knox New Sentinel, “Fish fence to stop Asian carp is tested in Kentucky,” once again demonstrates how federal and state officials, and decision makers, have lost direction to address the real need to stop the carp from taking over the carp free Upper TN River Basin. Spending millions to test a bio-acoustic fish fence (BAFF) at Barkley lake was a serious mistake, for the carp already occupy both sides of the lock. Their rationale was because there are lots of silver carp so it’s easier to test the barrier. Fact—sonic tags can just as easily be place in native fish to test the barrier.

Placing a BAFF at Guntersville or Nickajack on the TN River, would have slowed movement of the Asian carp into currently “carp-free” lakes of the upper TN River while testing the barrier—a real benefit for the cost.  Yet no one thought to protect this region and gain a double benefit from spending the millions. That decision cannot be justified, yet no agency will be held accountable.

Agency focus is exclusively on the BAFF, an unproven technology. Not a single fishery biologist in the nation will say the BAFF will stop 100% of the silver carp—they know many will get through—likely 10%. None of the decision makers are advocating electric barriers, a fifty-year-old proven technology. There are more than 50 electric barriers operating in the US. If they were lethal, none would have been approved. Electric barriers don’t scare fish like a BAFF, they prevent muscle movement resulting in the fish being unable to swim. When the fish float out of the barrier they swim away unharmed.

False statements by individuals with little or no knowledge of electricity have been made which scare the public. If a person fell into the water they would receive to their “heart” about 0.0045 amps, less than 1/5000th of an amp. It would be uncomfortable, but the person could swim and would be unharmed—people have swum through the barriers. It is impossible to be electrocuted.

Electric barriers cost around $15 million, but that is nothing compared to the economic loss caused by the silver carp. If they reach the Upper TN River Basin, there will be an annual downturn of over $1.3 billion based on TVA and UT studies. Too, we will be seeking millions to subsidize commercial fisherman to remove silver carp as is presently being done in Kentucky. Removing fish can never eliminate the devastation, for a single fish can lay 5-million eggs, thus a devastated lake is forever devastated.

Michigan and Illinois Governors, J. B. Pritzker and Gretchen Whitmer, along with US Sens. Stabenow and Peters, and numerous US Representatives and other Governors have formed a state and federal coalition to stop the carp. The Michigan DNR will be constructing an electric barrier along with a BAFF at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, IL. So why can’t Tennessee follow their example and save our lakes from certain devastation? It is clear that “Preventing” devastation is far better than allowing it to happen and then forever spend money to mitigate. The plan must be, FIRST:stop the Asian carp from moving into the Upper TN River Basin, and SECOND: mitigate the damage already done.

This region faces certain ecological and economic devastation—yet I see no evidence our responsible state and federal officials wish to take serious action to prevent it. I’ve tried my best to explain the obvious to then, but it seems a wasted effort. Maybe if thousands of people speak up and demand our lakes be saved, they just might follow the lead of the Illinois coalition and approve the construction of an electric and BAFF barrier at Nickajack or Watts Barr. I am not optimistic this will happen, but will continue the WBEFC struggle to protect our wondrous lakes.  Dr. Timothy Joseph, Fishery Biologist, Chairman-Watts Bar Ecology and Fishery Council (

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