Chautauqua drawdown draws ire of fishermen

June 04, 2012 at 05:13 PM

HAVANA — Fish weren’t biting Saturday at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge. But some of the fishermen were.

“I’m not for them draining it, by any means,” said 65-year-old Ron Peace, who lives nearby and has fished here for decades. “They’ve just ruined it.”

“They” are representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who are drawing down the South Pool to encourage growth of the plants that feed migratory birds. Peace said there is plenty of habitat for the birds, and no need to favor fowl over fish.

“I’m a fisherman. ... Fish are wildlife, too,” Peace said.

Unfortunately for those who share Peace’s piscine point of view, the refuge was established in 1936 specifically to aid birds, and not as a recreational area. The Illinois River corridor is a major flyway. The purpose of a drawdown is to mimic historic river patterns and produce more food for those birds. Drawing down the North Pool last fall did exactly that - but it also killed thousands of fish.

Neighbors complained about the stench and the waste and the threat of botulism in the very birds the refuge is trying to protect. In response, the South Pool was opened to commercial fishermen in late February so they could harvest before the drawdown. Starting last Friday, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources authorized private Illinois citizens to salvage fish, as well.

“It’s been fairly quiet,” said refuge law enforcement officer Dan Shamhart. “We’ve had a few people out fishing. They’re catching a few fish.”

Forty-six-year-old Bobby Peace was a bit more philosophical than his father. As they pulled their dripping johnboat from the water without catching a single fish, Bobby Peace said hunters and bird watchers love the drawdown; fishermen, not so much. While he has commuted to Peoria to work for years because he loves living in this area, the younger Peace is no longer sure he wants to retire here because of the decline.

“All the guys that hunt don’t live here,” Ron Peace interrupted. “We do.”

Perhaps that’s why a duck hunter from Peoria who was looking out over the drawdown on Saturday morning didn’t want to be quoted by name. He said he thinks the drawdown is a great idea, but he didn’t want to make any of the neighbors mad.


Randy Lindsey of Havana falls somewhere in between. He had towed his boat out just ahead of the Peaces. He, too, was skunked. But he’s hopeful that there will be a window of time during the drawdown where the fish are biting and the water remains high enough to use the boat.

“It’s still going to be a mess,” said Lindsey. “There’s going to be a smell. There’s a trade-off between what’s best for the ducks and what’s best for the fish.”

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Who: Any Illinois citizen

What: Can salvage fish

When: From dawn to dusk, until Jun. 29

Where: Chautauqua’s South Pool

How: Pole and line, hand capture, seining and netting. All fishing equipment must be removed from the refuge daily. No fish-cleaning on site; no fish or fish offal dumping. Fish must be retained and removed or released back into the South Pool alive. For more information, check http://midwest.fws.gov.

Caution: Beware the active osprey nest; the area nearby is closed.

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Terry Bibo can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 686-3114.