SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed a new law to help contain the spread of invasive species, such as the Asian Carp Fish, which threaten the livelihood of commercial fishermen and the ecological balance of Lake Michigan. Representative Lisa Dugan (D-Kankakee) and Senator Debbie Halvorson (D-Chicago Heights) sponsored House Bill 1181 that helps prevent the spread of exotic invasive species by bait dealers and the public, as well as prohibiting the release of unwanted species in Illinois waters.
“Illinois fishermen tell tales of forty pound fish leaping into their boats. They’re not fish stories, they’re facts of the invasion of Asian Carp, already infesting some Illinois waterways,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “This law will help us in our effort to curb the spread of this invasive species, and protect Illinois’ natural resources.”
House Bill 1181 includes three major provisions, amending the fish and aquatic code:
- It clarifies the definition of minnow, to prevent both commercial and sport fisherman from using or selling invasive species as bait. The clarification allows the Illinois Department of Natural resources to regulate potentially undesirable species imported to and transported within the state of Illinois. Those fish specifically identified as not a minnow are: common carp, goldfish, bighead carp, black carp, grass carp, and silver carp. The bighead, black, grass and silver carp are known as Asian carp.
- It increases penalties for those who release injurious species into Illinois waters from a petty offense to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum one year jail term and $2,500 fine.
· It allows DNR to regulate the sale of aquatic life, regardless of its intended use, whether for bait or pets.
A critical facet of the legislation is the list specifying which species are indigenous, or naturally growing, in the state of Illinois. In the past, Illinois law regulations applied only to aquaculture, but not to activities such as transportation, stocking on private property, live sale and distribution of fish, and food fish.
“This law provides needed steps to prevent importation of Asian Carp into Illinois, and the muscle to enforce the new provisions,” said Sen. Halvorson. “We must be aggressive in going after this invader of Illinois ecosystems.”
Asian Carp can grow to be as large as one hundred pounds in size. They eat up to three times their weight daily in plankton. They compete for food with larval fish, paddlefish, bigmouth buffalo, and freshwater mollusks.
“Several waterways around our state have seen this non-native species already take over,” Rep. Dugan said. “This is one way we can stop its spread so that our natural resources will be available for years to come.”
All four of the Asian carps that are established in the United States spread quickly after introduction, became very abundant, and hurt native fishes either by damaging habitats or by consuming vast amounts of food. They destroy habitat and reduce water quality for native fishes by uprooting or consuming aquatic vegetation.