As the Great Lakes region continues to look for ways to stop plankton-gobbling Asian Carp from infesting our lakes and rivers, the Illinois General Assembly is considering a rather unconventional approach to fighting the invasive species: shooting them.
Last week, Illinois Rep. Dave Winters (R-Shirland) introduced a bill that would amend the Fish and Aquatic Life Code, allowing registered gun owners in the state to shoot Asian carp "with a shotgun off of a motorboat in the Illinois River beginning with the 2013 licensing year." The bill says the Department of Natural Resources would be able to regulate and administer the pilot program.
"Shotguns, jumping fish, and boats speeding along on bumpy water. What could go wrong?" Chicagoist wrote Friday, adding that Winters' bill is not the only strange solution to carp locals have come up with:
… there are already guys cruising the Illinois River in makeshift armor, swinging samurai swords and Wolverine gloves at Asian carp off of water skis. And shooting arrows at the flying fish is a big enough sport that there has already been at least one bow hunting cover model accident near Peoria.
Since jumping carp have infested the Illinois River, several carp-fighting groups have popped up. The man behind the Peoria Carp Hunters says his group participates in "bowfishing on steroids," and videos of "Extreme Aerial Bowfishing" have circulated on YouTube. In one case, a woman's jaw was broken when a carp jumped into her face from the water while she was bow hunting.
While some say Asian carp is too boney and fishy for American taste buds, other groups hope that perception will change. Last year, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources held a public tasting event starring a Louisiana chef turned advocate to start a campaign that may lead to feeding the invasive species to the growing number of people facing hunger.
"Fish translates to one thing: food," said Chef Philippe Parola. "It's one of the greatest natural resources we have."
As people shoot, catch and eat the carp, the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other environmental groups have been working toward a more permanent solution to stopping the fish. They hope an electric fish barrier near Chicago and an early-warning system that detects carp DNA in waterways can prevent the fish from invading the Great Lakes.
Imported from China, the carp escaped into the Mississippi from Deep South fish farms and sewage lagoons in the early 1970s. They've fanned out across dozens of rivers, creeks, ponds and reservoirs. Bighead carp have turned up in 26 states and silver carp, the other Asian species on the Great Lakes' doorstep, in 17 states.
The bighead can reach up to 4 feet long and 100 pounds, while silver carp are notorious for hurtling from the water like missiles when startled, at times slamming into boaters with enough force to shatter bones. Biologists say it's uncertain how much damage they would do if established in the lakes. But under a worst-case scenario, they would unravel the food web by consuming huge amounts of plankton – tiny plants and animals on which most fish rely at some stage of life.
WATCH as Asian carp surprise a family as they drove their motorboat down the Spoon River of Illinois over the summer: