If there ever was an icon for invasive species, it is Asian carp.
Not only do they reproduce and grow exponentially, they leap up to eight feet out of the water in a spectacle that is almost beyond belief.
If we were able to weigh all the fish in the Illinois River today, more than half of the fish by weight would be Asian silver and bighead carp.
To stay on top of efforts to keep the invaders from spreading from the Illinois River system into the Great Lakes, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has developed an aquatic nuisance team of six biologists.
They work with other agencies to monitor and respond to any reports of the fish near electric barriers designed to keep them in check.
“We work closely with other agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” said Kevin Irons, aquatic nuisance species program manager. “We actually have more work than any one agency can do.”
The Corps is in charge of three barriers put in place to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan.
“All of the barriers are functioning, and two are always on,” Irons said.
The good news, Irons said, is that Asian carp are rarely found in the northern reaches near the barrier.
So far, only one confirmed fish, found when the Chicago and Sanitary Ship Canal that bridges the Illinois River and Lake Michigan was treated to kill all fish in 2009, is known.
Irons said biologists are using nets, electro-fishing and contracting with commercial fishermen in an attempt to find any Asian carp near the barrier.
“We are using the commercial fishermen who have the most experience catching fish, and the best gear,” he said. “We’re just not catching them.”
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