Dozens of legislators from the states around the Great Lakes and Canada were in Joliet on Friday to witness a demonstration of how commercial fishermen harvest the invasive Asian carp from the Des Plaines River.
They were in Illinois for its annual two-day meeting. To kick off the event, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources took them to the Rock Run Rookery Preserve in Joliet to demonstrate its ongoing efforts to protect the Great Lakes from the introduction of Asian carp.
Kevin Irons, an aquatic nuisance species manager for IDNR was leading the demonstration and answering questions for the legislators. He detailed what IDNR and commercial fishermen did to capture and remove the invasive species on a regular basis.
“My goal is to continue to push down the population, take the fight to the fish,” Irons said.
Irons said the fishermen use up to several thousand yards of netting to catch fish, although on Friday for the demonstration they used only about 100 yards. They then have to pound on the boat and rev the engine to motivate the fish to move into the net.
The fishermen have been able to capture much of the larger carp, such as bighead carp in excess of 40 pounds. Irons said it would take only about 200 fish to fill the boat. Now, fishermen mostly are capturing the 5- to 15-pound fish, mostly silver carp.
As of last year, state officials said the Asian carp was about 93% eliminated in the Joliet area.
On Friday, the fisherman demonstrating for the legislators caught one bighead and one silver carp. They said the silver carp, which seemed to impress many in attendance with its size, weighed about 30 pounds.
The group also traveled to the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, the site of a potential new series of Asian carp control measures, and learned about an electric barrier already in place along the Illinois Waterway System.
Irons added the fish can be sold to restaurants where the carp can be served in a variety of ways, like fish cakes. They also can be used in fertilizer, lobster bait, fish oil, dog food and other animal treats.
“These are good fish to eat,” he said.
The legislators in attendance Friday were members of the Great Lake-St. Lawrence Legislator Caucus. The caucus is a binational, nonpartisan organization of state and provincial legislators. It focuses on policies related to protecting the Great Lakes and ensuring clean sources of water for the region.