Durbin, Halvorson view Asian carp crisis at Starved Rock

Chicago Tribune
August 9, 2010
 By: Joel Hood

Two of the state's biggest allies in the fight against Asian carp got a firsthand glimpse of the threat Monday while touring the popular Starved Rock State Park, 100 miles southwest of the Loop.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, both Democrats, joined wildlife officials on a boat tour in an area of the Illinois River already inundated with the feared invasive species.

From their boat, Durbin and Halvorson saw biologists jolt the river with electrical current, forcing Asian carp to leap from the water. Park officials worry that if the growing Asian carp population becomes entrenched in this part of the river, it will endanger boaters and threaten to deplete a native fishing stock that is crucial to attracting tourists.

"This effort today showed us firsthand what we're facing," Durbin said. "We understand what's happening under the water here will have an impact on the future of the Illinois River and the Great Lakes."

Over the last month, biologists have used nets and electro-fishing in the waters at Starved

Rock to capture about 100,000 pounds of Asian carp, just a fraction of the carp population believed to be there. The effort is a small piece of the nearly $100 million the federal government is spending on removing Asian carp in the Great Lakes states this year, Durbin said.

"We're trying to find every way we can to stop this fish and keep it from the Great Lakes," Durbin said.

Last month, Gov. Pat Quinn announced Illinois was investing about $2 million to expand the capabilities of a downstate fish-processing plant that hopes to send as much as 30 million pounds of Asian carp a year to upscale restaurants in China. More recently, state officials have been looking at Asian carp as a boon to recreational fishing as well, last week helping organize a bow fishing tournament in the river town of Spring Valley, west of Starved Rock.

Because Asian carp feed on plankton, they're virtually impossible to catch with a traditional rod and reel. So anglers at Spring Valley stalked the fish at night using flashlights to lure them up to the boat, said Marc Miller, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Miller hopes the tournament becomes an annual event at Spring Valley, a town fighting to reduce its own growing Asian carp population.