A coalition of officials from Canada and several Midwestern states stopped at the Forest Preserve District’s Rock Run Rookery Preserve on Friday, September 13, to learn more about efforts to prevent Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes.
At the rookery, commercial fishermen dragged nets behind their boats and revved their engines during the carp roundup, which netted eight silver carp and one bighead carp, as well as common carp and native fish. Members of the observation group were part of a Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus meeting taking place in Chicago over the weekend.
Representatives came from Quebec and Ontario, Canada; and Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Organizations represented included The Council of State Governments – Midwest, National Assembly of Quebec, Ontario General Assembly, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Illinois House of Representatives, Great Lakes St. Lawrence Governors & Premiers and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.
Rock Run Rookery, a former quarry that is connected to the Des Plaines River, is one of the northernmost spots Asian carp have been detected in the Illinois Waterway System. It is a convenient site for such demonstrations because it’s the farthest upstream location where Asian carp can be caught, said Kevin Irons, aquaculture and aquatic nuisance species program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
There is a good source of plankton for the fish at Rock Run Rookery and they seem to like the habitat.
“Rock Run Rookery is a hidey-hole or a refuge,” Irons said. “It’s a place where the fish will get out of the main channel and they stay. So for us, it’s kind of a trap or a hot spot. We can get in there and catch and remove fish.”
After the Joliet demonstration, the group headed by bus six miles upstream to Brandon Road Locks, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to improve to make it even more difficult for Asian carp to get through.
A few hundred Asian carp also have been outfitted with radio tags so they can be tracked. The radio trackers have shown that when the carp head north to Brandon Road, they turn around quickly and return to Rock Run Rookery – which is a good thing, Irons said. The noise from the bridge or the quality of the water could be turning the fish away, but no one knows for sure, he added.
Since 2013, IDNR has hired commercial fishermen to catch Asian carp from late February through mid-December north of Starved Rock State Park to Rock Run Rookery and the Dresden Pool, which stretches from the Dresden Lock to the Brandon Road Lock and includes a portion of the Kankakee River.
Carp that are harvested in the river in the Rock Run Rookery area are being used for non-human products: dog treats, fish meal, fish oil, fertilizer, and fish bait. Commercial carp harvests occurring lower in the waterway system are being used for food for human consumption.
Asian carp harvesting efforts organized by IDNR are up 25 percent in the past year, Irons reported. And the population at Rock Run Rookery has fallen dramatically since IDNR first organized commercial harvests in 2013. Back then, there were 1,000 or more Asian carp in Rock Run Rookery, now only half a dozen or so are caught on fishing expeditions, he said.
Overall, the population of carp in the Rock Run Rookery and Dresden Pool area is down 96 percent since IDNR harvesting efforts began, Irons added.
“That’s why we’re putting so much effort into this,” he said.
The fewer Asian carp that make their way north past Rock Run Rookery, the lower the possibility that the carp could sneak through other barriers farther north and make their way into the Great Lakes, which officials fear could decimate the native fish population.
Asian carp are a menace because all they eat is plankton, which young native fish need to survive and some adult native fish, including bigmouth buffalo and gizzard shad, also eat, Irons explained. In addition, Asian carp lay millions of eggs, so they can reproduce quickly, further straining resources for native fish, he said. Asian carp escaped into U.S. waterways from catfish farms in the South during flooding. The foreign carp were brought to this country in the 1970s as a biological control method for algae blooms at the fish farms.
IDNR has been using science, including electric barriers and fencing in Romeoville, to fight the spread of the fish upstream since 2010. First, IDNR looked for the fish in Chicago, but found none, Irons said. So the state turned its attention downstream by hiring commercial fishermen to harvest fish on the Illinois River upstream from Starved Rock, he explained.
The Great Lakes are not the only geographic region in jeopardy. Irons said four Asian carp species – bighead, silver, grass and black – have been found from the Adirondack Mountains to the Rocky Mountains and from Minnesota waters all the way to New Orleans.
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