Holding advance of invasive carp: A ride-along seeing contract netters manning the front lines
A ride-along with Illinois assistant fisheries chief Kevin Irons and Aquatic Nuisance Species program manager Brian Schoenung to watch contract netters of invasive carp gave much to consider.
OTTAWA, Ill.—Kevin Irons noticed a new tattoo on John Beasley’s heavily muscled arm as he hauled netted silver carp into his boat last week on the Illinois River.
“It’s an underwater scene,” said Beasley, whose family has owned Beasley Fish in Grafton for generations.
Not some stylized Australian reef fantasy, but a partially completed underwater scene with tires, carp and catfish. Too perfect for a morning taking Rick Telander, the Sun-Times columnist with a love of the outdoors, to see invasive carp netted.
Irons, assistant fisheries chief for Illinois, and Brian Schoenung, who filled Irons’ role as Aquatic Nuisance Species program manager, hosted. We launched with Justin Widloe and Nathan Lederman, Illinois Department of Natural Resources specialists for ANS, from Starved Rock Marina.
Widloe piloted us upstream past Buffalo Rock and the Wide Waters. Off the main channel, several “contract fishers,” commercial fishers hired for the removal of invasive carp, were setting up.
“We’ll catch well over a million pounds, we’re at 700,000 now,” Irons said. “Last year we did 1.2 million pounds.”
Removing invasive carp—silver, bighead, grass, black—is to help prevent them from reaching the Great Lakes via the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS). Between the electric barriers near Romeoville and the netting, advancing invasive carp stalled well downstream of Lake Michigan.
The “contract fishers” and various agencies removed, by 2020, 1,268,956 invasive carp, weighing 10,357,069 pounds.
There are no established invasive carp populations in Lake Michigan, CAWS, the Lockport Pool and Brandon Road Pool. (Pools are the waters behind a dam.) Over the decades only three individuals have been found in CAWS, one in the Lockport Pool and none in the Brandon Road Pool.
Dresden Island Pool has an adult invasive carp population, but only one larval has been discovered (in 2015). The Marseilles Pool has an adult population and spawning has been detected. The Starved Rock Pool has an abundance of adult invasive carp. The Peoria Pool has an established population with all life stages.
First we watched Shawn Price rooster tail water while his dad, Guy, banged on the aluminum boat with a metal hook to drive silvers into their nets. Silvers are notoriously famous for spectacular leaping (one landed in our boat). Some leaped over the nets.
In the Starved Rock Pool, nearly all were silvers of 5-8 pounds. We did not see any bigheads.
Price was using 3-inch mesh net. When he started hauling in net and carp, I could see why the guys have burly arms. Price’s boat can hold 14,000 pounds. He’s had as much as 12,500 pounds last year.
Next we checked on Ron Brown, 74, who started when he was 8. He’s famous for taking around Jeremy Wade of “River Monsters” fame.
Then we found Beasley. The surprise was Jeromy Buchanan taking a small sauger from their net. Non-carp were released. On the day, we also saw gizzard shad, bigmouth buffalo, smallmouth buffalo and freshwater drum. Well, and a beaver that barely avoided a net and a spiny softshell turtle.
After netting finishes, boats are trailered to William Stratton State Park in Morris, where fish are counted and loaded in 4x4 totes, then dumped into a semi. They go to a Beardstown plant to become fish meal.
When we finished, Widloe motored us downstream to show Telander the Starved Rock Lock and Dam.
It was time.
On the day, I noted American white pelicans, a belted kingfisher, Canada geese, wood ducks, great blue herons and turkey vultures.
A decision has been made how to rebrand invasive carp, but Irons would not do a reveal.