GRAND RIVERS -- With the push of button, a local, state and federal multi-agency effort to keep Asian carp from moving farther up the Cumberland River was initiated Friday at Lake Barkley.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. James Comer did the ceremonial honors in deploying a bio-acoustic fish fence on the downstream side of Barkley Lock, marking the first time a BAFF has been tested at a lock and dam on a large river.
"Today we begin the latest cutting edge experiment which has the potential to make a real difference," McConnell told the assembled audience of approximately 85 people.
"To confront a problem of this scale we need to deploy every viable defense in stopping these invasive fish here, not only to protect our waterways but also some of our most treasured lakes and rivers."
The goal of the bio-acoustic fish fence is to reduce the use of the locks by Asian carp, helping to protect hundreds of river miles that remain relatively untouched by carp in the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. The field test of the BAFF initiated Friday will continue for a three-year period.
"This is proof when we actually work together we can accomplish great things," said Comer, referring to the participating partners represented at Friday's ceremony, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
"I can help raise awareness, but when you talk about a $25 million appropriation (in the Senate-approved appropriations bill), there's only one of 535 members of Congress that could have gotten an appropriation of that size and that is Sen. McConnell," Comer said.
"Without him, a project like this would never be possible in the state of Kentucky."
The spread of four species of Asian carp -- bighead, black, grass and silver -- are threatening the Southeast's aquatic biodiversity and local outdoor economies. In recent years, the established invaders have expanded into southern waters like Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake.
The bio-acoustic fish fence sends a curtain of bubbles, sound and light from the riverbed to the water surface, which deters noise-sensitive carp from entering the lock chamber.
Lyon County Judge-Executive Wade White drew praise from a number of speakers Friday for his efforts to combat the growing population of Asian carp.
Taking his turn at the podium, White had a message for the audience that braved the windy, 40-degree temperatures.
"You think it's cold, but imagine being out on the water, putting out nets, pulling in nets. There are heroes here on Barkley and Kentucky lakes doing that every day, pulling the fish out ... these commercial fishermen.
"These guys are going to make the difference. This (BAFF) is an awesome tool to help them so they can win this war on carp," he said.
According to White, if the $25 million McConnell has secured in the (Senate) budget gets approved, the plan is to purchase nine other BAFF systems for other locks and dams.
"I'm tickled to death this is here. I've been waiting for about a year and a half," he said.
"This is just getting started but we are going to win. When we win, east Tennessee wins and several other places that have not experienced this will win."