Durbin takes Asian carp tour

A bighead carp, a species of the Asian carp, swims in a new exhibit that highlights plants and animals that eat or compete with Great Lakes native species Thursday, Jan. 5, 2006, at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

August 9, 2010 2:20:39 PM PDT
The spread of the leaping, voracious Asian carp has pit Illinois against other Great Lakes states.

Senator Dick Durbin took a tour downstate where the carp are in abundance in the Illinois River trying to maintain a balance between the needs of commercial fishermen and protection of Lake Michigan.

There is actually a number of species of carp in the Illinois River. Some grow up to five feet long and that's the problem. The carp eat up plankton and other vegetation, leaving little for other species of commercial fish.

Senator Durbin, along with Rep. Debbie Halvorsen, boarded boats at Starved Rock State Park to watch the federal fish and wildlife service, working with state authorities and local fishermen.

Nets are strung across the river and then prods on board boats on either side of the river begin to administer electric shocks. The electricity causes the carp to leap out of the water, but more importantly drives them toward the nets.

Recently, Durbin, Halvorsen and state officials inked a contract to create jobs and increase the amount of Asian carp that is caught and sold.

"Thirty million pounds of Asian carp a year will be sent to China per year because they think it tastes good, which is great. We want to send more than 30 million pounds a year," said Halvorsen.

But the fear of the hungry fish making its way into Lake Michigan, and eventually the other great lakes has prompted neighboring states to file lawsuits, trying to get Illinois to close the locks leading into Lake Michigan.

Durbin points out, besides the damage to a $16 billion per year fishing industry, there could be an environmental and human disaster if facilities, such as the deep tunnel, could not release into Lake Michigan as happened recently during heavy storms.

"What would happen if we didn't have access between rivers and canals into Lake Michigan? We would have flooded downtown Chicago and the suburbs. That's the environmental reality. Those who come up with quick and simple solutions need to...understand the environmental impact as well as the economic impact," said Durbin.

Ninety nine million dollars of federal money has been pledged to find other methods


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