Commissioners with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission unanimously approved at today’s meeting a $70,000 increase to the AGFC’s Fisheries Budget to purchase and outfit two specialized boats that will be crewed and used to catch and remove invasive carp in the Lower Mississippi River Basin and the Arkansas/White/Red Rivers Basin.
The $70,000 budget increase is to take advantage of $1.2 million from four U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grants to control the spread of invasive carps. Darrell Bowman, AGFC Assistant Chief of Fisheries, said most of those funds are being used in academic research at multiple universities as part of a multi-state collaborative partnership.
“This is a new problem, so we have to learn as we go,” Bowman said. “We have to take what we learn and try to control this species. We also need to do what we can to control these fish while that research is going on.”
AGFC Director Austin Booth commended the efforts being led in the fight against invasive species.
“Controlling invasive carp is a monumental challenge, and it is one we hear about all the time from our beloved anglers,” Booth said. “[AGFC Fisheries Chief Ben Batten] and Darrell not only thought outside the box to identify a federal funding source to obtain the personnel and the equipment necessary, but they also went so far to ensure the funding was there to study and measure our success in this effort…That’s the model we should be undertaking in all areas of this agency and that effort has my highest support.”
Invasive carp species include the bighead carp, black carp and silver carp. They were introduced to Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s to reduce algal blooms and vegetation issues in aquaculture operations. After escaping to the wild during flood events, they have spread throughout the lower Arkansas River, the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois rivers. In addition to feeding on plankton and reducing available forage at the base of the aquatic food web, invasive carp can pose a safety risk. Silver carp, in particular, are known for their habit of jumping from the water when startled, becoming a danger to boaters.
The AGFC has worked to prevent further spread of the species through public education efforts and regulations banning the transport of live bait, which could harbor juvenile invasive carp. The agency also has encouraged the use of the carp in commercial processing to create more incentives for commercial anglers to help harvest these invasive species in Arkansas.