Officials said a bill to allow fishing using gill and other similar nets in the Tennessee River is designed to prevent an infestation of Asain silver carp in the Tennessee River basin.
Officials said local anglers have reported sightings of the carp, which could be detrimental to the local catfish supply and pose dangers to boaters.
State Reps. Marcel Black, Lynn Greer and Greg Burdine are among seven sponsors of the bill. Greer said the bill was created after discussions about the carp with Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources officials.
“According to people I’ve spoken with in the conservation department, gill-net fishing is the only way to handle them,” Greer said.
Greer said conservation officials showed him videos of the large carp. In the video, they are seen leaping from the water into the air. There have been reports of the fish causing hazardous driving conditions for boaters and even injuring children.
“If one of those fish jumps up while you’re going 30 to 40 miles per hour in a boat, it can hurt you,” Greer said.
He said if the bill is passed, net fishers would have to agree to keep any carp they catch from returning to the river.
“They would have to commit that they would destroy the silver carp when they catch them,” Greer said. “They can’t just push them out.”
Stan Cook, chief of the Fisheries Section of the department’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, said several Asian carp were introduced to the United States in the 1970s.
Cook said they were brought in to feed on plankton in catfish-production ponds. He said heavy plankton populations can occur when catfish feed is added to a pond, so the carp were placed there to eliminate that problem.
In addition, they were introduced as American fish producers considered marketing them for their food value, Cook said.
“Unless you have a secure system to prevent escapement they’ll escape, and that’s what happened,” he said. “That’s one of the most serious threats in the Southeast United States, exotic animal introductions.”
As years went by, there were increased reports of the carp in Midwest states such as Ohio and Indiana. Apparently, the fish have been making their way south through the Tennessee River. Officials started reporting sightings in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Now, there are reports from commercial anglers in Pickwick and Wilson lakes, Cook said.
“We’ve had reports of silver carp in other areas of Alabama but they haven’t taken a foothold,” he said. “Two or three years ago, Tennessee conservationists said they are seeing them in their river systems and to look out, they’re coming our way.
“We share the same water on the Tennessee system. It’s the natural progression. Whenever you have something like that doing so well, you can expect them to spread.”
Cook said a typical surface acre of water can only serve a certain fish capacity, and the addition of a carp population could make it difficult for catfish to flourish.
“It affects any species as it goes up into the food chain,” he said. “You’re seeing a lot of that discussion in Illinois and Ohio.”
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.