U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., visited wholesale fish and roe dealer North American Caviar Friday morning in Henry Count to attend a conference on the growing Asian carp problem and what fishermen need to accomplish the goal.
North American Caviar co-owner and fisherman Clay Young said the facility is at capacity, and could use a federal or state grant to expand in order to accommodate more fish.
The Asian carp is caught by commercial fisherman and sold predominately to Maine for lobster bait, and to other industries for everything from fillets, dog treats and material for producing stock.
Young said only the biggest fish, at 20 pounds or more, can be processed into fillets because of the carp’s many bones, and that smaller fish can be used to produce strips.
He said they had expanded within the past few years to add a new freezer and other facilities to accommodate buffalo fish, catfish and the Asian carp.
Expansions can’t stop there. Young says that in order to process more carp, they will need a new building as well as a new parking lot.
Tennessee Commercial Fishing Coordinator Eric Ganus said there have been incentive programs to encourage commercial fishers to catch more Asian carp and therefor get more of the invasive species out of Kentucky and Cumberland lakes.
These incentives have included wholesale market incentives as well as a net incentive, where Asian carp fishers may purchase netting at lower costs.
Genus said the need to incentivize commercial fishers is important — more will fish for Asian carp if it’s more profitable.
Young said he has more potential buyers for the carp, including buyers in Canada who can sell to the United Nations, but no way to fulfill this demand with his lower current capacity.
He said he has the available workforce, including the ability to get new hires, if the expansion is completed.
Blackburn suggested getting outside investors involved in order to add the extra room.
Ganus said the fishers did well this year despite extra flooding, but that in future years, carp numbers could triple if space becomes available to support those numbers.
Neil Matlock, a commercial fisherman in the area who works sometimes with North American Caviar, said his boat started as a paddlefish boat.
He was able to convert the boat for carp fishing, but he also has a capacity issue. Many fishers do.
Asian carp are heavy fish that can be caught in large numbers, but many fishers’ boats can’t handle high amounts.
Matlock said populations are high enough that many could double production if they had larger boats.
He said it’s not possible to go back and fish the same population the next day — the fish can be skittish and migrate away after an area is fished.
Matlock said his men sometimes work very early in the morning and very late at night. When the carp jump out of the water after dark, it can be hard for fishers to see them coming.
He said his boat is tearing apart from the carp fishing, as well. Matlock said he believes more incentives can get more fishermen in the carp business, but only if they’re able to get boats that can support it.
Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency Chief of Fisheries Frank Fiss said when it comes to control strategies for the invasive carp species, the agency recognizes that fishing is the best way to control the spread of the species.
Paris Mayor Carlton Gerrell said the city’s been seeing impact from the Asian carp population on local tourism.
Young agreed, saying the area sees fewer people out on the lake each year. Asian carp has wiped out other fish species in the area, making the lake less appealing for recreational fishers.
He said fishermen can have all the tools in the world, but they also need a place to sell what they catch.
Blackburn said it can be a major concern when urban areas get federal and state money and rural areas get left behind.
She said localities must write their own grant, but Congress can assist by writing a letter of support.