TWRA first detected substantial numbers of Silver Carp in the Mississippi River in the early 2000s. Today, Silver Carp are abundant in reservoirs on the lower Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. They are most widespread in Kentucky and Barkley lakes, but a few fish have spread through locks as far upstream as Chickamauga Lake on the Tennessee River and up the Cumberland River to Cordell Hull Dam. Silver Carp have also been found on the Duck River.
The expansion of these carp into Tennessee waters is of great concern to the state. At high abundance, invasive carp pose a serious threat to fishing and boating. These fish compete for the same resources as our favorite sport and commercial fish, and can cause injury by colliding with boaters. The TWRA is working closely with federal and state partners, including the states of Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama, to control the abundance and spread of carp.
Alongside partners, we are working to install deterrents at multiple locks to limit upstream movement of carp. We are currently involved in several projects including the testing of a deterrent at Barkley Lock that uses a system of underwater sound, lights, and bubbles to deter fish movement, and tracking the individual movements of over 500 Silver carp in the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. This information will allow us to evaluate the deterrent, prioritize additional deterrent locations, and pattern fish movements to improve harvest rates.
Since September of 2018, TWRA has been supporting the commercial fishing industry by providing per-pound incentives and grants to expand the capacity of local processors on Kentucky and Barkley lakes. As of Dec. 31, 2021, the industry has removed over 13 million pounds of invasive carp from Kentucky and Barkley lakes through Tennessee's Carp Harvest Incentive Program. Similar efforts by the state of Kentucky have also removed millions of pounds from those same lakes. These harvest efforts, combined with deterrents to prevent more fish from moving upstream throughout the system, should reduce abundance of carp and their negative impacts.
You are also important in preventing the spread of invasive carp. Please be extra careful about moving bait fish. Young carp look very similar to shad. Learn to tell them apart. It is illegal to have a live invasive carp in your possession. It is always illegal to stock any species of fish into public waters.
Silver and Bighead Carp can be harvested. There are no creel or length restrictions. They are a bony fish, but the meat is very tasty. There are several videos online that show techniques for filleting, and even easier methods that allow you to safely serve the fish with bones in (called “carp wings”). Give it a try.
Know the difference between shad and carp
The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at the dorsal (top) fin. Both shad have a long, threadlike fin that extends toward the tail. Carp will not have this thread-like fin.