While lawmakers and the White House ratchet up efforts to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan, boating and fishing communities along the Illinois River are under siege.
By Joel Hood, TRIBUNE REPORTER, firstname.lastname@example.org
February 14, 2010
SPRING VALLEY, Ill. - — While Midwest lawmakers and the White House ratchet up efforts to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan, boating and fishing communities up and down the Illinois River are under siege.
In Peoria and farther downstate, invasive bighead and silver carp are so abundant that they're out-competing native fish for food, disrupting spawning habits and injuring boaters and water skiers.
In Spring Valley, an old coal-mining town 100 miles southwest of Chicago, signs proclaim the city the sauger fishing capital of the world. The Illinois River is so critical to the local economy and tourism that area residents say the town might cease to exist without it.
"Losing the river would be catastrophic, at least," said Bill Guerrini, a longtime Spring Valley resident and founder of the town's Walleye Fishing Club. "That's what we're talking about here, the loss of the river. And, unfortunately, there are a lot of people who won't realize it until it's gone."
If Peoria has already lost the war on Asian carp, as some fear, Spring Valley is the war's new front line.
Residents say since Asian carp began establishing themselves in the river a few years ago, sauger fishing hasn't been the same. Anglers accustomed to reeling in 4- and 5-pounders now catch 3-pounders. Though the residents don't have hard data, they suspect carp have decreased the sauger population, contributing to one lackluster fishing season after another.
Spring Valley's biggest fishing tournament of the year, the Masters Walleye Circuit event each March, used to bring in 225 teams with another 30 on a waiting list. Last year's event had about 100 teams, Guerrini said, and fewer than 40 have signed on for this year's tournament, a casualty of the slumping economy and the diminished fishing. …
Fears about what Asian carp could do in Lake Michigan are based largely on what they have done in river towns like Peoria, Bartonville and Pekin. Anglers there say bighead and silver carp are to blame for a dramatic drop in the local crappie, bass and bullhead populations. Asian carp feed almost exclusively on plankton and other vegetation, taking it from the mouths of forage fish that bass and other species eat. And the carp are so abundant and prolific that they're interrupting the spawning beds and furthering the decline of native fish. …