Fish on: Asian carp netted in forest preserve lake in Joliet
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org March 16, 2013 4:18PM
Updated: April 18, 2013 6:20AM
JOLIET — The wind was howling and the temperatures hovered around 30 degrees early Wednesday when a group of fishermen rolled two boats into a Rock Run Rookery Preserve lake.
Theirs was not a pleasure cruise. Their mission was to eradicate any Asian carp that might be lurking in the preserve’s waters.
The commercial fishermen stretched nets kept aloft by floats and weighted down with lead throughout the 84-acre fishing lake, which is south of Route 6 and east of Youngs Road.
“They rev the engines and beat on the side of the boat to chase (the Asian carp) into the nets,” said Glen Buckner, a wildlife ecologist with the Will County Forest Preserve District, which owns the preserve. “It’s not real high tech.”
During Wednesday’s harvest, 80 Asian carp totalling about 2,000 pounds were pulled from the lake; 65 bighead carp and 15 silver carp, Buckner reported.
Link to river
The invasive fish have traveled into the lake, which is a former quarry, via a channel that leads to the Des Plaines River. After a local fisherman caught an Asian carp last fall, 18 others were fished out of the lake during an exploratory trip organized in November by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. That set off alarm bells at the IDNR.
Keeping Asian carp out of Lake Michigan is a top priority for the department. Asian carp have small throats so all they can eat is plankton, which is a major food source for minnows and shad that game fish pray on, said Kevin Irons, aquatic nuisance species program manager for IDNR. A large population of Asian carp could decimate game fish populations, he said.
Native carp only eat plankton when they are young, so they are not a threat, Buckner said. Asian carp eat plankton their whole lives.
Now that Asian carp have been detected at Rock Run Rookery, the site will be added to IDNR’s list of hot spots. From March through December, IDNR has hired commercial fisherman to catch as many carp as possible between Joliet and Starved Rock. IDNR biologists ride along in the boats to record the contents of each catch.
About 10,000 pounds of Asian carp were pulled out of a privately owned gravel pit lake on Tuesday near Morris, Irons reported.
“They’re fairly easy to catch,” Irons said of the Asian carp. “They have big heads so their heads get caught in the gill nets easily. And we don’t catch a lot of the native fish.”
Desirable fish will be thrown back into the lake. Native fish that were ensnared in nets at Rock Run Rookery on Wednesday looked healthy, Buckner said.
“They did get a 40-plus-inch muskie and a couple of very large channel catfish,” he said.
Asian carp migrate into lakes where it’s easier to feed than in fast-moving river waters, Buckner said. And there is more radiant heat from the sunlight, which means more plankton to eat.
Keeping carp out
Keeping Asian carp out of lakes connected to the Des Plaines and Illinois rivers will increase the chances one won’t sneak by three electric barriers on the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping canal between Lockport and Romeoville, Irons said.
The barriers are designed to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan where they could destroy game fish populations and migrate into tributaries throughout the Midwest and Canada, Buckner said.
“If they get into the Great Lakes they’ll damage commercial fishing and then get into more pristine areas of the lakes, rivers and streams,” he said. “The Great Lakes are like a big hub and its tributaries are where a lot of young fish travel from place to place.”
So far, only one Asian carp has been detected north of the barriers. It was caught in 2010 in Lake Calumet. Irons said that Asian carp was probably introduced there when catfish were stocked in the lake.
Irons said Asian carp were brought to the United States to clean the water used in catfish farms in the South. While some people believe the Asian carp escaped into U.S. rivers during flooding in 1993, they were there much earlier, probably the 1970s, he explained.
While locally caught Asian carp will be turned into liquid fertilizer, commercial fisherman who catch the fish south of Starved Rock sell them to Asian markets where the fish are used in soup and other recipes, Irons said.
“No part of the fish goes unused in Asian cuisine,” he said.
But there isn’t much of a market for the bland-tasting fish in the United States, he added.
“It’s bony and that’s the biggest challenge for Americans.”