Illinois continues fight against invasive Asian carp

State to fund survey designed to find solution to managing Asian carp population

CHICAGO—Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich announced $100,000 in Opportunity Returns funding has been provided to conduct a survey designed to find solutions for managing the invasive Asian carp population, a nuisance fish that is highly disruptive to the Illinois River’s ecosystem, by harvesting the fish and processing it into a marketable good.

Carp Protein Products, Ltd., of Havana is conducting the study. Havana is an Illinois River community close to the Asian carp epicenter and adjacent to critical Illinois research facilities.

“Economic development is about more than increasing business productivity and improving the skills of our workforce,” Blagojevich said. “It’s also about developing solutions to challenging problems that limit economic opportunity and drain community resources. The Asian carp is a serious threat to the health and well-being of the Illinois River and the communities alongside it. By supporting this important survey, we’re investing in the vitality of one of our critical natural assets and sparking new economic opportunity that could pay real dividends.”

The survey has been studying quantities and locations of Asian carp populations, developing harvest techniques and assessing the viability of a future economic development project utilizing the unwanted species of Asian carp for commercial purposes.

Results of the survey have led the company to conclude that a profitable business with long-term viability can be developed by processing the Asian carp to make a fish product extract used to make flavored seafood products common in Asia and other parts of the world.

Carp Protein Products hopes to begin planning and design for the construction of a processing plant in north central Illinois.

The grant funding came from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), while the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is providing additional in-kind services.

Blagojevich recently sent a letter to Illinois’ congressional delegation urging them to support a resolution that bans Asian carp. Currently, fish farmers in Southern states, such as Arkansas and Mississippi, import the Asian black carp to eat parasites that threaten their catfish. House Resolution 3049, the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act, would make it illegal for states to import Asian carp.

“This is the proverbial making lemonade out of lemons,” said Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Director Joel Brunsvold. “This project takes a serious problem, the invasive Asian carp, and looks to create a solution that is good for both the environment and the economy. Any time you can turn problems into profits, it’s a good thing.”

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.

If Asian carp are allowed to enter the Great Lakes, this invasive species could devastate the aquatic ecosystem of the world’s largest source of freshwater. Asian carp pose a variety of threats to native fish and aquatic ecosystems because they can consume much of the food chain. They eat aquatic plants, compete for plankton with native fish, and eat snails and clams. These voracious feeders breed prolifically and can weigh more than 100 pounds.

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 recently 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.

The survey is determining the best practices to promote environmental management of these invasive species in the Illinois River and help prevent them from progressing into the Great Lakes system. The Havana area is being considered as a site for the plant because of its proximity to large concentrations of Asian carp.

From the dec. 7-13, 2005, issue

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