(The Center Square) – Imagine boating on the Illinois River and having a 40-pound silver carp jump in the boat and smack you. A slap by a big carp can break a person’s rib.
“When they hear boat motors, the carp jump out of the water and people can get injured, jet skiers, boaters, even kayakers,” said Molly Flanagan, chief operating officer for the Chicago-based non-profit The Great Lakes Alliance.
Having a big carp land in the boat is “terrifying,” she said.
“They bleed and puss when they flop around and hit things. It’s disgusting,” she said.
The carp are a threat to the $16 billion a year Great Lakes recreational boating industry and the $7 billion a year Great Lakes fishing industry, Flanagan said. The boney, bottom-feeding carp gobble up the food that popular native sport fish depend on, she said.
Invasive carp were imported to the United States in the 1970s to clean the pens on catfish farms in the South. Some of the carp managed to escape and make their way north. The carp have been multiplying ever since. Now they are perilously close to the Great Lakes.
One day last fall, Illinois harvested one million pounds of carp in a day, Flannagan said.
“That is more than they caught in all of 2022,” she said. “It’s a pretty strong warning that we need to be moving faster to get the Brandon Road Project built,” she said.
The Brandon Road plant is a last-stand facility that is set to be built at a choke point in the Chicago Area Waterways System. Advocates for the Great Lakes are frustrated because Illinois has yet to sign off on an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to allow construction to begin.
The federal government has awarded $274 million in funding for the engineering phase of the Brandon Road project and the first year of construction. Illinois has allocated $50 million in state funding. Every time Flanagan thinks an agreement is about to be signed, there is another delay, she said.
One concern is the possibility that hazardous material may have contaminated some of the land that is needed for the plant. Staff analysis done by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources seems to indicate that the risk is low, Flanagan said.
“Illinois has the opportunity to be a hero here, to save the lakes from this crisis,” Flanagan said. “If Illinois can step up, they can be the hero.”