Invasive fish plan unlikely to slow catch: Although a nuisance, Asian carp providing booming industry for entrepreneurs

Jacksonville Journal-Courier

Aug. 30–Headway is being made in the fight against Asian carp but even with potential federal funding on the horizon, it will be some time before the populations are under control.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this month released a preemptive $275 million plan that would create new structures in addition to upgrading existing ones at several key points in Illinois waterways that would prevent the invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.

An extensive report at 400 pages, excluding appendices, the plan would target the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, a bottleneck south of Chicago that “prevents the upstream transfer of the Mississippi River Basin” according to the report.

“Operation of the Brandon Road lock currently provides the only known continuous aquatic pathway that allows (the) Mississipi River Basin to transfer into the Great Lakes Basin at this location,” the report reads.

The multi-pronged plan utilizes strategies such as the utilization of a sound system to create noise that will deter fish from approaching the lock, an electrified barrier, and even special water jets to wash away smaller and stunned fish. However, the plan is in the preliminary phases and the final report isn’t scheduled to be released until 2019, with federal funding and congressional approval required to begin construction.

Kevin Irons, aquatic nuisance species program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said downstream efforts around the Illinois River have so far proven beneficial. Earlier in the year, IDNR announced its plan to control the population, outlining several short-term goals.

“We’re very aware where fish are and where fish aren’t. We’ve tracked population trends from 2012 to 2014 and we’ve seen a relative decrease,” Irons said.

Fish population around the Dresden Island Pool has seen a 68 percent reduction in population, with a 58 percent reduction in the Marseilles and Starved Rock pools, Irons said. Part of that success has been in part to contract fishers who have worked diligently to catch millions of pounds of fish at a time.

Another key component are commercial fishers, such as those who have taken root in Beardstown by the Illinois River. Even with the decreases in the Asian carp population, Irons said that the commercial fisheries will have job security for some time, as the IDNR hopes to increase the commercial harvest of the fish from 4 million to somewhere around 8 [million] and 15 million pounds.

“We’ll need to remove historic levels of fish from our river and maintain that pressure,” Irons said. “We actually hire some fisherman and tell them where to fish. The people in Beardstown are truly commercial fishermen. They will exponentially help us from spreading to the Great Lakes because they’ll never have a chance to get up there. That will allow us to focus on downstream control.”

As the Asian carp population diminishes, the natural fish population will increase as the competition is reduced over time, further encouraging fishing in Illinois Rivers, Irons said. However, he noted that it’s important for private fishers to take extra precaution to make sure they are not aiding the spread of the fish.

The IDNR, in collaboration with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Illinois Natural History Survey, launched the “Be a Hero — Transport Zero” campaign in 2015. On the campaign’s website, www.transportzero.org, anyone partaking in activities on the river such as fishing or boating are urged to remove plants, animals, and mud from equipment, to drain all water from their boat and gear and to dry everything thoroughly with a tall to prevent the spread of invaders.

With the collaboration of organizations such as the Corps of Engineers and the IDNR, there may be hope yet that a stable Asian carp population may never reach the Great Lakes. However, Irons suspects that Illinois’s waterways may not see the fish completely removed for some time.

“The silver bullet doesn’t exist right now,” he said.

Nick Draper can be reached at 217-245-6121, ext. 1223, or on Twitter @nick_draper.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.