Bath, IL - Large, jumping fish called Asian Carp have nearly destroyed the ecosystem and ruined recreational boating along the Illinois River.
They have ravenous appetites, and when they are stimulated by a boat motor, they jump out of the water. Now, they threaten to invade the Great Lakes and Michigan Rivers if something isn't done.
It's a problem WZZM 13 News looked into as we traveled to Illinois. Reporter Sarah Sell and Photojournalist Jim Sutton went out with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to investigate.
It's a cold and rainy day in May and the Illinois River is high. “So, that's another challenge we have trying to find fish right now”, says Kevin Irons, Fish Specialist with DNR.
Our goal is to find Asian Carp. The river is filled with them, but given the conditions, the DNR doesn't know if the masses will make an appearance. They eventually do, but before we talk about the slightly scary and dangerous experience, let's tell you why the Asian Carp are so bad for the native fish in the river.
Iron's says, "They are out competing them for food. They are good at getting the plankton resources. They can literally take the food out from under the other fish."
Iron's is part of a survey team with the DNR. They are located in Havana, Illinois, about 200 miles south of Chicago. They are here to study all the fish, but lately, the Asian Carp are center stage. Iron's says, "The fact that we're not seeing a good mix of fish kind of shows that hey are dominating the community right here."
We're on the DNR's electric boat. It gives the fish a harmless jolt so more of them come to the surface. We get a warning to be careful. The jumping fish will hit you if you don't watch out. As the electricity is turned on, the river explodes with fish. They are jumping all around the boat. Some land inside! We're told that people have been injured by these fish.
And the fish don't need to be shocked to get them to jump. Any kind of movement, especially a boat motor, seems to make them come out of the water. Recreational boating is nearly impossible, especially in the summer when the water is low.
Betty and Kenny DeFord grew up along the Illinois River. Betty says, “They're just like torpedoes. They come flying up out of the water at ya. You don't know where they're coming from." Kenny says, "I've seen em' jump. 300 of em'. Jump out of the water at the same time, and they'll jump 8 feet out of the water and 20 feet across the water."
Kenny and Betty used to have fun on the river, but they say those days are gone. Betty says, "It could kill a little kid. The force of these things."
Three years ago, Betty came up with an idea to get rid of some of the fish. She runs a little bar along the river and started the "Redneck Fishing Tournament". John Bertoni has participated in the event and says, "You go up and down the chute here and try to catch as many as you can."
Each year, they catch hundreds of fish, but it doesn't even put a dent in the problem. The De Ford's say this is what it would be like for people in Michigan if the fish made it into our rivers.
"Cause once you get em' there, you're not going to get rid of them", says Betty.
The Illinois DNR is trying to figure out what to do. They say chemicals won't work because that would harm the native fish.
As the research continues, there is an effort by the Army Corp of Engineers to keep invasive species out of the rivers and lakes. It involves an electric barrier about 200 miles to the north, near Chicago.
"This is the only spot where we have a pinch point. We have a narrow canal and fish have to pass through this point. So this is the ideal spot to stop fish from getting through", says Chuck Shea, manager of project.
The barrier has electrodes that go along the canal. Shea says, "The idea is to repel the fish without harming them."
So far, the barrier seems to be working, but it won't get rid of the threat completely. The Asian Carp are a problem because we brought them here. They were used to clean catfish ponds in the south. Irons says, "When they flooded, they got out and they are slowly making their way north."
Studies show that right now, the fish are about 50 miles south of the barrier. If they were to make their way up into the great lakes region, experts say it would be devastating.
Previous story: Great Lakes Water War
READ FULL STORY