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Fishing teams hunt problem fish in Ky. lakes

Dylan Lovan, Associated Press

Fisherman Marcus Mann unloads Asian carp from his boat Wednesday, March 13, 2013, at Kentucky Dam Marina in Gilbertsville, Ky. Wednesday was the final day of what the State Fish and Wildlife department says is the country's first-ever commercial fishing tournament for the Asian carp. The fast-breeding Asian carp's exploding population has infested lakes and tributaries all along the Mississippi River. The competition attracted about 20 fishing teams from Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee. (AP Photo/Dylan Love)

GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Fishermen are on the hunt in western Kentucky for a pesky fish whose exploding population has infested lakes and tributaries all along the Mississippi River.

The fast-breeding Asian carp is the target.

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.

"In all the tributaries associated with the Mississippi River ... all the tributaries are full of these things," said Ron Brooks, fisheries directors for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.

The department organized what it said is the country's first-ever commercial fishing tournament for the Asian carp with the hopes of reducing the population. The two-day tournament at Kentucky and Barkley lakes concludes Wednesday evening. Kentucky 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.

Fishing was slow for some teams in the chilly, windy weather that hovered around the 30s all day.

Steve Caksackkan, a commercial fisherman from Paris, Tenn., said it's the first time he's fished for Asian carp, but he's had plenty of problems with them while pursuing other fish. The breed is just as prevalent in lakes and rivers in Tennessee, he said.

"We've had a problem with them down there, jumping in the boat, jumping, hitting people, tearing up tackle," Caksackkan said. They're a "water nuisance."

Casackkan's team didn't have much luck on Wednesday, catching just two of the carp, though both were more than 30 pounds.

Officials had hoped the competition would clear 100 tons of the fish before the carp's breeding season. A top prize of $10,000 will go to the team that brings in the most poundage. Brooks said the teams likely won't meet the goal this year and the final haul likely won't be known until Thursday.

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. 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.