The hunt for foreign invaders will be ramped up this year in Illinois.
No, we’re not talking about terrorists. We’re talking about Asian carp.
Federal and state officials announced last week that they plan to intensify their efforts to find Asian carp in Illinois waterways.
The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee announced a $6.5 million plan that “will focus on actions that have achieved tangible results.” Those include removing Asian carp from the Upper Illinois River and other waterways below a set of electric barriers meant to keep them from reaching Lake Michigan.
The plan calls for intensive sampling of fish in waterways that connect Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River watershed to determine whether any carp have breached those barriers.
Scientists fear that if the voracious eaters, which can reach 100 pounds, become established in the Great Lakes, they would out-compete native fish for food and threaten the lakes’ $7 billion fishing industry.
Five response actions last year included 1,600 hours of surveillance over 27 miles of waterways with nets and “electrofishing,” but no Asian carp were seen or captured above the electric barriers.
Officials say they will test other control technologies this year, including acoustic water guns that could scare away carp from crucial locations.
Some state and local officials in the Great Lakes region want structures placed in the Chicago waterways to seal off Lake Michigan from the Mississippi watershed, but industry and local officials warn that would hurt barge shipping in the Chicago area.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it plans by the end of this year to present options to Congress to prevent invasive species from traveling between the two watersheds.
In the meantime, plans call for a privately owned processing plant to be built along the Illinois River at Grafton, which would allow fishermen to bring in Asian carp to be turned into fish meal, fish oil and bone meal. All three are daily traded commodities purchased in great quantities by domestic and worldwide animal feed companies.
Between the private-sector effort to reduce Asian carp populations through harvesting for profit and the government actions to keep them from reaching the Great Lakes, there may be hope of stopping these invaders before they can do catastrophic damage to our environment and our economy.