Southern Illinois University - Carbondale releases report on the use of fishing to control Asian carp populations

Fishing Down the Bighead and Silver Carps: Reducing the Risk of Invasion to the Great Lakes

Bighead carp and silver carp (hereafter, Asian carp) invaded the Illinois River waterway over a decade ago. Populations of these fishes have grown dense in the lower and middle Illinois River and both species are approaching the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) and the defensive electrical barrier. The source populations will continue to send individuals upstream to challenge the CAWS and ultimately the Great Lakes until they are reduced. This follows the "cockroach analogy" in that control of an insect infestation in a home will be ineffective if only the few appearing out in the open are eliminated. Rather, effective control requires eradication at the source, such as in the cupboards or walls. To protect the upstream CAWS and the Great Lakes while ameliorating the problem in US rivers and interior lakes, the populations of carp in the downstream reaches of the Illinois River need to be continually suppressed, including those individuals that migrate in from the Mississippi River.

Asian carp are by far the world's most cultured fish because they are a healthful source of protein and perhaps omega-3 fatty acids. Thus, unlike so many nuisance or invasive species, these problematic fishes in the US have one positive aspect: they can be converted to desirable food for both human and nonhuman consumption. Organic fertilizer also is a desirable option. The research described herein is designed with one simple idea in mind: to beat Asian carp in the Illinois River and eventually other US waterways by consuming them. Harvesting is an immediate, revenue-positive complement to other control efforts, which may be effective but have not yet been developed.

Overharvest of Asian carp occurs in their native range and thus is possible in the Illinois River and other waterways of the US. However, several research questions must be addressed to ensure that both public and private resources are expended wisely and efficiently to effectively control these species. This report describes a multi-institution effort to quantify the abundance and ecological impact of these species in the Illinois River and then determine whether fishing is a viable option for control. Successful fishing requires an incentive on behalf of the commercial fishers and processors, because demand and selling price are currently very low. Thus, marketing options need to be identified.

The ecological, fish nutrition, contaminants, harvest, and marketing research began during late 2010 through mid-2011. To learn more, please download the executive summary and complete report.