ALEXANDER COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - Dozens of fisherman are casting nets around Horseshoe Lake in Alexander County this week to catch and invasive fish species and study the rare black carp.
Matt O'Hara with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is leading the Asian carp project. He said the goal is to stop the invasive species of fish from spreading to other bodies of water.
"We want to be proactive because these are invasive fish and they can provide a lot of environmental harm if they get established," O'Hara said. "To keep their numbers in check so the native species can out compete them. That is the huge thing we would like to accomplish at some point."
Kelly Baerwaldt, the regional Asian carp coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Midwest region said the invasive species reproduce very quickly, can crowd out habitat space and eat too much food that all fish rely on.
"Bighead carp and silver carp can eat 40 percent of its body weight a day," Baerwaldt said. "You're talking about the same food resource that every single fish, native or whatever, depending upon. So they are very good competitors for food and for space."
Baerwaldt said humans are the cause of the Asian carp invasion into many bodies of water where they are not native.
She said they were introduced at aquaculture facilities as a natural way to control snail populations, but things got out of hand during the great floods of 1993.
"That was a remarkable year. Water was in every part of the Midwest, so every aquatic animal had access to pretty much anywhere," Baerwaldt said. "In fact our first ever black carp that we every captured in the U.S. was in 1994 in Horseshoe Lake."
As of Wednesday afternoon, O'Hara says the team of about 35 fishermen has caught 3 black carp.
"That is out of 20 to 30 thousand fish that we have caught so far, and we are still going until Friday," O'Hara said. "We are keeping all of the other Asian carp that we collect in the lake. We have a processor that is going to utilize those fish for fish meal product and fish oil product, so we are using them for good."
Joining state agency staff at the lake are graduate students from Southern Illinois University - Carbondale, and Western Illinois University.
One of their tasks is to measure, weight, and take samples of any black carp that is caught this week.
O'Hara says the biological data they gather will help with research years down the road.
"We're figuring out how old the fish are. We can see if these fish are either sterile or they can spawn. We are also seeing what their diets consist of," O'Hara said. "We talk about keeping that next big thing out of the lake. That is where our education and outreach comes into play that is first and foremost."
O'Hara is urging all fisherman to never transfer a fish to a different body of water.
If you catch a black carp he says you can get a $100 bounty for if you report it to your local department of natural resources office.
"If you think you have a black carp, put it directly on ice, so we can use that fish to get the biological information that we need," O'Hara said. "Call us and send us a picture so we can verify the fish."
For more information visit the Illinois DNR website.