Asian Carp in Tennessee’s Waters

Asian Carp in Tennessee’s Waters

There is an Asian carp invasion that has taken over the Mississippi River system—and it has moved aggressively into the Tennessee and Cumberland River systems.

Asian carp are a serious threat to our aquatic ecosystems, recreation, and economy. The public must do its part to prevent the accidental spread of Asian carp while calling on elected officials to support policies aimed at managing this threat.

Take a moment to tell your legislators you’re worried about damages caused by Asian carp and the urgent need for funding and efforts to stop the threats they pose to people, native fish, and habitats.

Fighting Back Against Invasive Carp

Asian carp include four invasive species—silver, bighead, grass, and black carp—that were brought to the United States in the 1970s to help maintain ponds used for aquaculture. Floods and transport by people spread the fish to our reservoirs, lakes, and river systems. The species very rapidly spread on its own and inadvertently by anglers mistaking them for bait fish.

Asian carp reproduce quickly, have no natural predators, devour food sources native fish need, and devastate habitats. Asian carp, which can grow up to 100 pounds, also threaten boaters’ safety. Silver carp are known to jump when disturbed by boats, striking passengers and causing serious injuries.

If left unaddressed, Asian carp will continue to spread throughout our waterways. As the species’ range expands, so will their destruction of native aquatic wildlife–from endangered muscles to bass and other sport fish. Asian carp degrade the quality of waters, making them less attractive to the anglers that help fuel countless local economies across the state. And as anglers stop buying licenses, the state wildlife agency loses critical funding for wildlife conservation of all types. Recreational boaters are also driven away by the threat of jumping silver carp, further damaging local economies.

Elected officials at the state and federal levels have collaborated with Tennessee Wildlife Federation to help shape and pass bills and budget requests. And Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has devoted resources to studying and monitoring Asian carp, as well as testing barriers.

But a greater response is needed from all sectors to meet this challenge. We must continue to ask our state and federal leaders to provide the tools and increased funding needed to remove Asian carp from our waters and prevent them spreading. Individuals can also take the Stop Asian Carp Pledge to do their part to report and slow down this damaging invasive species.

Get Involved

In the News

New Asian Carp Policy Brief
UT’s Baker Center for Public Policy

Quick Facts

  • Asian carp are now found in all three of Tennessee’s grand divisions—from the Mississippi to the Tennessee River north of Chattanooga.
  • Tennessee contains more than 60,000 miles of streams and rivers. Tennessee reservoirs span hundreds of thousands of acres.
  • Every year in Tennessee, fishing generates $2 billion in economic impact, $112 million in state and local tax revenue, $149 million in federal tax revenue, and supports 17,500 jobs.
  • Boating generates $2 billion in economic impact and supports 23,500 jobs every year in Tennessee.
  • Chickamauga Lake is one of the top three bass fishing lakes in the United States.
  • The Duck River in Middle Tennessee is one of the most biologically diverse rivers in the country and is critical to several endangered mussels species, which are threatened by black carp.

More from the Federation about Asian Carp

More Information

Silver carp

Silver carp – This species of Asian carp eats microscopic algae and zooplankton. They are problematic for the same reasons as mentioned for the bighead carp. They compete for food and space with our native species. In addition, when silver carp are startled they have a tendency to leap out of the water and can jump as high as eight feet. Therefore, they are even more problematic because of the potential to injure boaters, jet skiers, and water skiers. Silver carp can grow as large as 60 pounds. In the Tennessee River, Silver carp are most abundant in Kentucky Reservoir, with an emerging population in Pickwick Reservoir as well. The most upstream report of silver carp on the Tennessee River was Wheeler Reservoir in Decatur, Alabama. On the Cumberland River, they have been observed as far upstream as Cordell Hull Dam.

Bighead carp

Bighead carp – This species of Asian carp consume microscopic zooplankton. Zooplankton is an important part of the diet for many native fish such as shad, buffalo, and paddlefish. Larval sport fish such as crappie, bass, and bluegill also depend upon zooplankton in their early life stage. Bighead carp are problematic because they compete with our native species of fish for food and space. Bighead carp can grow as large as 100 pounds. This species is thought to be most abundant in the lower reservoirs of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, but individuals have been observed as far upstream as Nickajack Reservoir.

Grass carp

Grass carp – Grass carp, also known as White Amur, eat aquatic vegetation. This species was introduced  into the U.S. to control excess aquatic vegetation (weeds) in commercial catfish ponds. Grass carp are a concern because they eat many types of aquatic vegetation and much of this vegetation provides excellent cover for a variety of sport fish such as largemouth bass, crappie, and bluegill. Many species of aquatic vegetation also provide food for waterfowl. Reproductively sterile grass carp are commonly used to manage aquatic vegetation in small lakes and are legal to stock in private lakes and ponds as long as they are sterile (triploid). Grass carp can reach sizes in excess of 80 pounds. Grass carp are increasingly a cause of concern because recent testing of grass carp in wild populations has revealed that many of these fish are not the sterile variety, and so they can and likely have been reproducing when the conditions are right.

Black carp

Black carp – This species of Asian carp eats snails and mussels. It was brought into the U.S. to control snails in commercial catfish ponds. Snails serve as a host for parasitic worms that get into fish flesh thus making catfish meat unappealing. Eliminating  the snails eliminates the parasitic worms. Black carp are problematic because they could eat the many species of snails and mussels that are native to Tennessee. A 70 pound black carp was caught by a commercial fisherman in the mouth of the Obion River on the Mississippi River in 2012. Until recently black carp had only been reported in the Mississippi River. Since 2017 there have been a few documented catches of black carp in Barkley and Kentucky reservoirs.

Photos by Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers