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Illinois hunting and fishing

Jeremy Fisher steps through thousands of pounds of big-head Asian carp that he and two others caught with trammel nets on the river. Photo courtesy of David Zalaznik

Asian carp pose conundrum

March 10, 2009 at 03:28 PM

GateHouse News Service

Creative carp anglers

Hockey helmets and bows and arrows aren’t usually associated with fishing. But anglers have resorted to exotic equipment to tangle with Asian carp.

Asian carp, which have gained infamy for their aerobatics, are an invasive species of fish that have begun to clog the Mississippi River basin.

Duane Chapman knows all about silver and bighead carp, commonly known as Asian carp. In addition to being a research fisheries biologist for the United States Geological Survey, Chapman is also an avid fisherman.

Chapman said there are a number of ways to catch Asian carp, which taste much better than the common carp most people know.

For a traditionalist, a rod and reel can be used to catch these aquatic invaders.

“The typical European method for fishing for silver carp involves a large dough ball and has a number of small hooks that hang in a nest around it,” Chapman said.

But if you don’t want to spend the time setting up a rig, Chapman has some good news.

“The easiest way to get a large number of silver carp in the boat is to just drive around and grab them out of the air with landing nets,” Chapman said.

But Chapman warns: “It can be dangerous.” That’s why he suggests headgear.

Bowfishing is another unorthodox method of taking Asian carp.

“Bowfishing can be extremely productive,” Chapman said.

“(Bowfishers) use fiberglass arrows that have a fish barb on them and the arrow is attached to a string and then on the bow you use either a spinning reel or a retriever.”

When the fish break the water, the angler lets the arrows fly.
Female silver carp provide the best meat, Chapman said.

“I don’t even clean the males,” he said, adding that there are so many Asian carp out there, no one should feel bad about wasting the males.



How do you control an animal that has no natural predators, seems to multiply uncontrollably and has bad effects on the ecosystem?

“That’s the million dollar question” and the conundrum caused by Asian carp, according to Rob Maher, commercial fishing program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Two Illinois lawmakers think they have a hint. Reps. Patricia Bellock and Jim Watson want to repel the aquatic invaders, but they have come up with opposite solutions.

Bellock, a Hinsdale Republican, wants to ban the buying and selling of Asian carp, effectively ending commercial harvesting of the fish.

Watson, on the other hand, wants to give DNR up to $3 million to examine the merits of mass commercial harvesting of Asian carp.

“I do not proclaim to be a fish biologist or an expert,” said Watson, a Jacksonville Republican. “I’m trying to get something out there so that we can have this discussion and find out what can we do.”

Bellock and Watson previously have addressed the assault of bighead and silver carp on Illinois’ ecosystem. Those are the two main species people are referring to when they use the term “Asian carp.”

Originally brought to the United States to eat vegetation in fish farms, Asian carp escaped sometime in the early 1970s, and they have systematically worked their way up the Mississippi River basin.

“We’ve been monitoring silver carp and since 1998, their population has doubled almost annually,” said Greg Sass, field station director and large river ecologist for the Illinois Natural History Survey.

There is no sign the fish’s population growth will slow down anytime soon. Watson and Bellock hope to change that, though their approaches differ.

“The experts have advocated what I have in my legislation (a ban on the sale of Asian carp),” Bellock said. “I think they have seen that all the other things done have not worked.”

It seems, however, that most people involved with Asian carp want to see if commercial harvesting on a massive scale would reduce the fish’s population.

“Fishing them is probably one of the very few solutions,” Maher said.

Population control has fallen on fishermen because humans are the only predator of the fish in the United States. But commercial fishermen have been reluctant to harvest Asian carp because of there’s not much of a market for them.

“Without a market to sell these fish, there is no motivation to harvest them,” Maher said.

Currently, most caught Asian carp are either shipped overseas or to ethnic communities in the United States.

Steve Shults blames the widespread rejection of the fish on a stigma attached to the name “carp.” The carp most people know is a natural garbage disposal, feeding on anything that falls to the bottom of the river, giving it a taste most don’t enjoy.

This isn’t the case with silver and bighead carp, its proponents insist. They say Asian carp’s meat is light, something like cod.

“I’ve had them smoked and bighead fried and liked them both,” said Shults, DNR’s aquatic nuisance species program manager.

As more people are educated about differences in the carp, the market seems to be growing.

Mike Shafer, owner of Shafer Fishery, one of the two fisheries in Illinois that currently process Asian carp, predicts his sales of Asian carp will more than double from 4 million pounds in 2008 to 10 million this year. “We are doing a lot with fertilizer now, too,” Shafer said. “Everything but the fillet is used (in fertilizer).”

However, Shafer Fishery and Big River Fish, the other fishery that currently processes Asian carp, aren’t big enough to make a dent in the fish’s population.

“Those two particular businesses have been doing that activity for many years,” Shults said. Asian carp’s “reproduction has far outstripped the production of those two businesses.”

Despite this, some see a cause for optimism.

The commercial fishing industry for Asian carp “is a lot further along that it was five years ago,” Maher said.

Watson acknowledges that, when the state deficit could be larger than $9 billion, convincing the General Assembly to fund a giant fishing program could be difficult.

However, with Pat Quinn in the governor’s office, Watson thinks his legislation stands a better chance of passing than it did in the past. “The previous administration just said no and did not come up with any alternatives,” Watson said. “(DNR Director) Marc Miller and the governor’s office have all been responsive.”


Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Ban them? Will the Chicago burb politician tell them they are banned? I am sure this will work as well as the handgun and assault weapons ban in Chicago. That has done wonders for the gang violence in that city. I am never surprised with the lunacy derived from our elected leaders, no matter what letter is after their name.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/10 at 04:28 PM

How would banning the sale help control the population? That is crazy. It may have worked before they got here but they are already here, kill em.

Posted by illin on 03/10 at 06:47 PM

kill’em all

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/10 at 08:31 PM

I wonder if anyone thought to call the Missouri Department of Conservation. They are normally 10 years or so ahead of Illinois on any issue. They started studying their problem with Silver and Bighead Carp over 5 years ago. The Missouri River is populated with the Silvers and Bighead all the way to South Dakota.
Something good has come of it. It slowed the bass boats down and eliminated water skiing. They’ll come out with fold back carp cages on the bassboats and still try to run 70 mph.
According to the MDC it all started in Arkansas when one fish farmer brought them in to help purify the water in his hatchery ponds. That was in 1972.
One lazy fish farmer destroys the entire Mississippi river ecosystem.

We just keep trying to mess with Mother Nature and we never win. When will we learn?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/10 at 09:49 PM

We will never win because evryone is trying to save a buck and make a million!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/11 at 12:39 AM

Hey illinoisbonecollector !! Why don’t you do your part and eat the carp you catch. Anyone that suggests eating a beautiful bird such as a Maccaw should have no problem eating his fair share of carp.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/11 at 10:17 AM

as far as i’m concerned you’re not having a fish fry unless you have some carp to throw in,but i don’t care how good these are,get one in your boat sometime,slimy,bloody,stinking crap thanks

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/11 at 11:26 AM

Lets have a shotgun season on them.  Wouldn’t that be fun?  Then we would have outfitted carp shoots and Representative Phelps could get his family into this business too. I am sure he would write another ridiculous bill for his and his families benefit. Selfish Bass turds.  If you haven’t checked out KC’s last blog best do so.  Another Blago style politician is trying to make changes in our deer herd AGAIN.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/11 at 12:17 PM

Jeff I can see where you are going with that except the article says she “wants to ban the buying and selling of Asian carp, effectively ending commercial harvesting of the fish.” which would mean no one is investing in facilities because it would be outlawed in the first place. I just don’t understand how letting them go is a good thing! In my opinion we need to get these fish the hell out of our waters and if we need to find a market for them ship them to China where they belong. We need our native species to thrive otherwise the ecosystem could really be thrown out of whack which could potentially bring new problems. Seems to me like it would be better to fix the problem now rather than to fix more problems down the road. The only question is how do we do this? Unfortunately, I don’t have a definite answer right now although I know they have had tournaments around the La Salle/Peru area to get as many as you can, the one I witnessed was a bow and arrow contest. What would it take to have more tournaments for them more frequently? That would have to at least help wouldn’t it? And besides the problems already in the river systems a lot of people are worried about these fish invading the Great Lakes that too would be a huge disaster!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/11 at 01:52 PM

I totally understand that and believe me I am not trying to paint it that way. I guess I was trying to point out and ask a question at the same time. If what you are guessing is correct I think that would be a huge mistake. Personally I think we need to try anything and everything to try and eradicate these things from our water not just in Illinois but anywhere they have been introduced in North America.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/11 at 02:33 PM

We are thinking of starting some tournaments up north of Peoria, maybe even a weeknight league.  If you haven’t bowfished for them yet its a riot.  We have a pontoon boat and its caged in so hits to the body are very limited. We do run daily shoots in the summer.  Anyone interested we are alot cheaper than Mr Inventor of Carp Bowfishing and alot safer.
Trips run from 10 am to 4 pm.  We can’t kill em all but we sure try.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/11 at 02:39 PM

Where at north of Peoria? I could try and spread the word in my area.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/11 at 03:23 PM

Up near Chillicothe.  I will try and get some info out here in the next few days.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/11 at 03:50 PM

Lets have a shotgun season on them ilbowhunter…....they were doing that over on the wabash river in indiana but the dnr put a stop to it….I don’t see it working here in the state of ILL…..ILL would probably have to form a carp task force,which would want to sell more carp tag’s to outfitters and non-residents so they could steal more money…then that would ruin our trophy carp gene pool…now if people start hitting them with car’s and causing “carp collision damage’the state would be all over it… new season’s and new and more carp tag’s for outfitters and nonresident’s..

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/12 at 04:46 AM

Coondawg, that was exactly my thoughts.  Wanna screw up more outdoor activities in Illinois, turn them over to the political hacks of this state.
John Sullivan and Rep Phelps.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/12 at 08:37 AM

ilbowhunter,just maybe we have hit rock bottom in ILL. with our goverment and now we must make the long climb back to the top ,i sure hope so….

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/12 at 11:27 AM

these fish are here to stay and it’s only a matter of time before they get into Lake Michigan,then the politicians will scramble to do something.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/12 at 11:13 PM

Think of it like, everytime you flush the toilet a
asian carp is born, There headed up river because
Chicago has alot of toilets. That could be considered baiting.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/13 at 09:02 AM

Let’s just introduce some kind of large predatory species to prey on them, like The Amazon large pink dolphins or something. It would be like what they did in Florida, introducing the Peacock bass to control the tilapia population.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/13 at 09:49 AM

illbowhunter-  Please post info for bowfishing trip.  I have a group of 4 that want to go.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/13 at 03:53 PM

jcurri, You can contact me at (309)264-5397 and I can give you more info on our trips.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/13 at 04:44 PM

Kinda back to the original issue, the whole outlawing the commercial sale deal… I worked with a couple of IL fisheries biologists this past fall; to be honest they didn’t seem to be concerned with these fish. They realize there is no way of eliminating them, so they are just sitting back watching what happens next. Sure they are studying them and monitoring their growth, but most believe they will level off and possibly even decline in numbers. I’m not a biologist by any means, but from what I can remember from the few classes that I have taken…mice and rats will breed according to the space, forage, and population levels in a given environment. If mice numbers are low they breed twice as fast and somehow control the sex of their own litters by only giving birth to female offspring, thus increasing the breeding gene pool. Once numbers in an environment have reached a “maximum” holding potential, they breed less, have male offspring, and even become sterile in some cases.
Now, I know this is lengthy but hear me out. These Asian carp are relatively new to the area and have increased in numbers substantially. If we continue to harvest commercially and continue removing mass quantities of these fish they continue to rapidly reproduce to fill the continuous void.
Stop the commercial fishing, numbers grow, Asian carp slow reproduction rates, population levels off, and maybe even decline, who knows?
Don’t get me wrong, I hate em’ I wish they had never entered our waterways, and I am not a biologist by any stretch of the matter. Up until now I don’t think anything we have done to this point has had an impact at reducing their numbers.  Maybe it is time we let nature take its course and see what happens. O’ and one other thing, I have no clue who this Patricia Bellock and Jim Watson are, and don’t really care for that matter.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/16 at 01:24 PM

I’ve been reading this post and what I read is alarming .These fish are spreading rapidly throughout the south also. They now have a huge spawning population in Kentucky Lake and Cumberland River in the tennessee and Kentucky waterways.The lakes in our area have a huge economic impact on our economy.With the presence of these invader fish how long do we have before they completely take over our waterways?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12/31 at 08:50 PM

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