CHAMPAIGN – Environmental and watershed leaders joined Lt. Governor Sheila Simon today in discussing opportunities to eradicate Asian carp levels in Illinois waterways. The state of Illinois is working to develop innovative solutions to stop invasive species, which threaten the lakes and rivers of Illinois and fish native to our state. Recently, the fish have been harvested and processed for high-protein meals, which is one of many ideas for controlling the population.
“In order for the fish native to our region to survive, we must act now to stop the spread of Asian carp,” said Simon, the chair of the state’s river coordinating councils. “Together with researchers from across the state, private organizations and Illinois agencies, we have many viable solutions to stop its spread and market it in a productive way.”
James Garvey, director of the Fisheries and Illinois Aquaculture Center at SIU Carbondale, presented on his recently released report, “Fishing Down the Bighead and Silver Carps: Reducing the Risk of Invasion to the Great Lakes.” Through his research along the Illinois River, Garvey has found that Asian carp make up about 63 percent of all fish biomass in the river, and nearly all of the fish greater than 16 inches in length are Asian carp.
“Asian carp are now the dominant fish species in most major Illinois waterways,” Garvey said. “Because these fish are high in protein and have a similar fish oil composition of marine fish, they are an ideal food source. We are exploring whether harvest is a feasible method for controlling these species while simultaneously benefitting the consumers and fishing industry of Illinois.”
State agencies and private industries are already partnering to control the population of Asian carp and prevent its spread into Lake Michigan and other waterways. Through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ “Target Hunger Now!” campaign, more than 2,000 Asian carp meals have been provided to needy families over two years. Under this program, jobs are created to harvest the fish, needy families have access to protein-rich nourishment, and the species’ invasion is limited.
“The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has been helping lead efforts to protect the Great Lakes from this aquatic invasive species with innovative programs like ‘Target Hunger Now!’ The efforts of the department to remove, track and monitor Asian carp movements in Illinois waters has been a massive undertaking but one that is necessary to protect our environment here and throughout the Great Lakes Basin,” said IDNR Director Marc Miller.
Through public-private partnerships, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is working to find economic solutions to bring the Asian carp population in Illinois under control. A 2010 agreement inked by Governor Quinn will help support Big River Fish plans to harvest and deliver an estimated 30 million pounds of carp to a Chinese meat processing plant for packaging and shipping to international markets, addressing the fish’s progression while also supporting Illinois’ exports. The Pearl, Illinois company will invest $1.5 million and is expecting to create 61 jobs.
Earlier this year, DCEO announced approximately $1.9 million in federal IKE disaster recovery funds to develop an Asian carp processing plant in Grafton. The funding will consist of a $1.4 million loan to assist Heartland Fish Products LLC in purchasing equipment and a $532,725 grant to the City of Grafton for infrastructure improvements to support their operation.
Simon’s three River Coordinating Councils review state and federal programs that impact Illinois watersheds and work with local communities to raise awareness of and address watershed issues. The River Coordinating Councils meet quarterly around the state to engage the public and encourage working partnerships to address watershed issues.