Governor wants Asian carp out of Illinois waters

Exotic fish are bred in Southern states and escape into Illinois waters, where they destroy the ecosystem

SPRINGFIELD—Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich sent a letter to Illinois’ Congressional Delegation Oct. 19 urging them to support a resolution that bans Asian carp—an invasive species that threatens the Great Lakes.

Fish farmers in southern states, such as Arkansas and Mississippi, import the Asian carp to eat parasites that threaten their catfish. However, some of these carp have escaped fish farms in the Mississippi River and are making their way north through the Illinois river system to the Great Lakes, where they will destroy the lakes’ ecosystems. House Resolution 3049, the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act, would make it illegal for states to import Asian carp.

“Illinois fishermen tell tales of 40-pound fish leaping into their boats,” Blagojevich said. “They’re not fish stories, they’re facts of the invasion of Asian carp, already infesting some Illinois waterways. We need to do everything we can to protect the Great Lakes from this invasive species.”

Asian carp pose a threat to native fish and aquatic ecosystems because they consume much of the food chain. They eat aquatic plants, compete for plankton with native fish, and eat snails and clams. Black carp can live to at least age 15 and grow to more than 5 feet and 150 pounds. They reach maturity at 6 to 11 years of age, and then reproduce annually.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Joel Brunsvold said: “We’ve already seen Asian carp escape into Illinois waters and begin taking over the ecosystems. It is much easier to keep Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes than to try and get rid of them once they do get in and begin damaging the habitat.”

Illinois has learned from the silver and the bighead carp just how destructive Asian carp are to native ecosystems. The silver and bighead carp originated in Illinois from escapees from fish farms in Arkansas and Mississippi. Once in the Mississippi River, these species successfully reproduced and swam in huge numbers toward Illinois. Today, silver and bighead carp comprise up to 75 percent or more of the fish population in many areas of the Illinois River.

Blagojevich signed a bill this summer allowing the state to regulate Asian carp imported to, and transported within, the state of Illinois. But if other states are not under the same regulations, the legally imported carp in Southern states can travel through the river system and contaminate Illinois waters, which is why it must be illegal for any state to import Asian carp.

Blagojevich also wrote to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) requesting it rule in favor of banning Asian carp. The USFWS has proposed a ban, but has not yet made a final decision.

In addition to banning further importation of the fish, Blagojevich is also asking Illinois representatives to authorize and appropriate money to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reinforce, operate and maintain essential barriers to keep Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.

From the Nov. 2-8, 2005, issue

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