GILBERTSVILLE — Fishing groups are on the hunt in Western Kentucky for the pesky Asian carp fish whose exploding population has infested lakes and tributaries all along the Mississippi River.
State fish and wildlife officials say the non-native fish is gobbling up food supplies and starving out other more favorable species like crappie and bass.
The department organized what it said to be the country's first-ever commercial fishing tournament for the Asian carp.
The two-day tournament at Kentucky and Barkley lakes concluded Wednesday. Fish and Wildlife fisheries director Ron Brooks said about 38,000 pounds of the carp were caught Tuesday.
The competition attracted 21 fishing teams from Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee, but Brooks said seven dropped out before the tournament began.
The teams use commercial nets to catch the fish, which can grow to 100 pounds on a plankton and algae diet and won't bite on baited hooks.
Officials hope to clear 100 tons of the fish during the tournament before the carp's breeding season. A top prize of $10,000 will go to the team that brings in the most poundage.
The Asian carp sprung loose from fish farms in the 1970s and spread throughout the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. An electric barrier in a shipping canal near Chicago is meant to keep them from migrating into Lake Michigan, where scientists say they eventually could spread to the other Great Lakes. A three-year federal study is investigating the repeated discovery of Asian carp DNA in rivers and canals in the Chicago area.
Brooks said the Western Kentucky lakes are two of the state's best fishing destinations.
"We want people to come to this event so they can see the problem we're dealing with in both of these lakes," Brooks said in a statement. "We think people will be amazed by the size and quantity of these fish."
He said he hoped the competition will educate the public about the carp outbreak in the freshwater lakes.
The first annual tournament is using 50 volunteers to monitor the contest. The fish removed from the lakes will be placed in a refrigerated truck and taken to processing plants.