Bio-acoustic Fish Fence Now Operational at Lake Barkley

GRAND RIVERS, Ky. – An experimental project designed to keep invasive Asian carp from moving farther up the Cumberland River was unveiled Friday at Lake Barkley. A bio-acoustic fish fence (BAFF) was deployed on the downstream side of Barkley Lock. U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell and U.S. Congressman James Comer along with project partners, ceremonially inaugurated the BAFF system as part of a three-year evaluation to deter Asian carp from migrating through the navigation lock.

The BAFF sends a curtain of bubbles, sound and light from the riverbed to the water surface, which deters noise-sensitive Asian carp from entering the lock chamber. Fisheries managers on the west coast of the United States use a similar system to guide the movement of trout and salmon from water channels. This marks the first time a BAFF has been tested at a lock and dam on a large river.

“Today is an important day in the fight against Asian carp,” said Margaret Everson, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Principal Deputy Director. “This is a great example of how federal and state partners are working together to deploy promising, innovative tools like the BAFF system to prevent the movement of Asian carp. What we learn in Kentucky will directly inform our efforts to protect the Great Lakes.”

Construction of the BAFF began in July 2019. The project involves multiple partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, U.S. Geological Survey, and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Fish Guidance Systems, a United Kingdom-based company specializing in fish deflection and guidance systems, provided the BAFF technology at Lake Barkley.

“The invasion of Asian Carp into Kentucky waters presents an urgent threat to anglers, boaters and the local businesses that rely on them. In response, we’re mobilizing federal and state resources to develop cutting-edge strategies in the War on Carp,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “As Senate Majority Leader, I’ve prioritized our response by bringing together local leaders and Trump administration officials to stop the spread of these dangerous fish. This bio-acoustic fish fence is another tool with the potential to help protect Lake Barkley and all who work or enjoy these treasured waters.”

Congressman James Comer has also joined the fight on carp and is working with his congressional colleagues to request additional federal funds for controlling and removing the invasive fish from the nation’s waterways.

“The threat of Asian carp was first brought to my attention by Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White, and since then I’ve partnered with Judge White, other local leaders, and my colleagues at the federal level including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the fight against this invasive species,” said U.S. Congressman James Comer. “I’m proud that progress is being made and look forward to seeing how the new bio-acoustic fish fence will help preserve our beautiful waters and multi-billion dollar fishing industry here in Kentucky.”

The field trial at Barkley Lock and Dam is the next step in determining the system’s effectiveness. The BAFF project costs an estimated $7 million, which comes from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and leveraged financial support from the Service. The findings of the project will inform federal and state efforts to slow the spread of Asian carp and prevent their establishment in the Great Lakes.

Front-line collaboration between federal and state agencies allows for aggressive and timely action to control the spread of Asian carp. This partnership leverages scientific expertise, data collection and the implementation of new technologies like the BAFF system.

“Barkley Lock is a gateway where Asian carp enter into the Cumberland River Basin, so this field trial has far-reaching impact on the entire waterway. This is a very collaborative project, and we all recognize the importance of the bio-acoustic fish fence, which is now installed on the riverbed,” said Maj. Justin Toole, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District deputy commander. “The Corps looks forward to partnering with the other state and federal agencies as this field trial progresses and the research results are validated.”

The four species of Asian carp—bighead, black, grass, and silver—are a growing menace to southern waters that abound with diverse aquatic life. The upstream surge of Asian carp can threaten the Southeast’s renowned aquatic biodiversity, local outdoor economies, and a way of life. In recent years, Asian carp have expanded their range and numbers in southern waters. Bighead and silver carp are commonly found in the Mississippi River and in the Ohio River up to the Markland pool near Covington, Ky. Bighead carp have been reported past the Greenup pool, north of Ashland, Ky., but are rare above the Markland pool. In addition to the main rivers, these species have also been found in most of their tributaries, including the Tennessee, Cumberland, Green and Kentucky rivers. Recently, Asian carp have been found in the tailwaters of Taylorsville Lake and Green River Lake.

“We are hoping that the BAFF research results indicate that it can successfully divert Asian carp away from dams, lock gates and perhaps out of canals leading to the lock chambers,” said Ron Brooks, Aquatic Invasive Species Program Director with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “If it’s successful, the unit should greatly facilitate commercial fishing and agency efforts to reduce Asian carp in Kentucky and Barkley reservoirs since we believe the fish primarily migrate into the reservoirs to replenish their numbers. Reducing Asian carp numbers in the reservoirs should also reduce emigration to reservoirs above Kentucky and Barkley lakes. These tests are also very important to reveal the potential of the system to reduce Asian carp upriver migrations in areas where their numbers are currently limited and the fish are not able to successfully recruit naturally.”

The goal of the BAFF is to reduce the use of the locks by Asian carp, thus helping protect hundreds of river miles that are threatened by carp in the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. The system will guide carp from the lock approach channel without encumbering commercial and recreational navigation.

“Stopping the immigration of carp from the Ohio River is a critical step in the control of carp on Kentucky and Barkley reservoirs, likewise barriers are needed further upstream to protect those reservoirs that remain relatively untouched by Asian carp,” said Frank Fiss, Chief of Fisheries with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

“The BAFF may be a game-changer in the war on carp,” said Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White. “Our tourism economy has been suffering for years as bass tournaments and recreational boaters are choosing other waters to visit. This has a ripple effect across all counties in Western Kentucky. If the BAFF works we will cut them off at the dam and fish them out of the lakes.”

Asian carp have resilient, adaptive characteristics that allow them to outcompete native species like largemouth bass and crappie. Some carp species feed on plankton that serve as the basic food source for native fish while others forage the freshwater mussels that help keep our aquatic systems healthy for people and wildlife. A mature female Asian carp can produce more than 1million eggs each year, and these fish have no natural predators.

Continued leadership and support of elected officials ensures that federal and state agencies implement comprehensive plans to effectively address the threat of Asian carp in our nation’s waters. Through McConnell’s leadership, increased funding for Asian carp control and removal efforts was secured during the last two years. The Service is using this funding to help remove Asian carp in the Mississippi and Ohio river basins, including in Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

As a strong advocate of the importance of combating Asian carp, Comer brought federal and state officials to Kuttawa, Ky., for a field briefing to raise awareness of the Asian carp problem in Kentucky and Tennessee waters. Officials from the Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency discussed the threat and potential solutions before more than 400 concerned citizens attending the briefing in July 2018.

The Service, U.S. Geological Survey and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife agreed to McConnell’s request to deploy the “Unified Method” of harvesting carp to western Kentucky. This removal method involves corralling carp into one location using electronic technology and extracting the fish from the water with specialized nets. The agencies will evaluate this removal method at Kentucky Lake in winter 2020.