Fish Habitat Improvement in Kentucky: The Fingerling Stage

Tuesday, September 10, 2013: 9:20 AM
Izard (Statehouse Convention Center)
Jeremy Shiflet , Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Calhoun, KY
There are 20 reservoirs contained partially or entirely within Kentucky operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), the Tennessee Valley Authority, or Kentucky Utilities that have fisheries managed by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). These reservoirs range in size from 132 to 64,750 ha. The primary purpose of 19 of 20 reservoirs is flood control with each reservoir experiencing some amount of winter draw down in anticipation of spring rain. Depending on watershed size and expected inflow the draw downs range from 1.5 to 10 meters and usually begin in October of each year. Annual draw downs leave varying amounts of shoreline exposed for six to eight months of the year. This yearly exposure limits the establishment of aquatic vegetation, accelerates the rate of decay for coarse woody debris, and results in high levels of sediment transport within and into the reservoir. Aging reservoirs and annual draw downs lead to diminished littoral habitat. Historically, KDFWR’s response has been the small scale addition of habitat in the form of in-lake fish attractors. Kentucky’s reservoirs are vastly different from the eastern to western end of the state making for many unique habitat improvement opportunities and limited standardization. The type of habitat and method of deployment is chosen by the local fisheries biologist while acting within the guidelines established by the lake operator. Eighteen of 20 reservoirs are operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers with each lake having a different lake manager and operating within three different districts (Huntington, Louisville, and Nashville). The type and amount of habitat material permitted by each ACOE lake manager varies, with some being less restrictive than others. In the past four years KDFWR biologists have organized several larger scale projects where fisheries, wildlife, and law enforcement staffs, ACOE staff, and groups of volunteers gather to deploy a large number of fish attractors over a one to three day period. These events are usually conducted during the winter to make use of exposed shoreline during winter draw downs and the available time of field staff. The effectiveness of different habitat types used throughout the state has yet to be fully evaluated; however, several projects are in the planning stages. KDFWR hopes to expand the habitat program to include Best Management Practices in the watersheds as well as in-lake fish habitat that fosters long term solutions versus short term fixes.