Mission: Carp: Illinois turns to spy tactics to get rid of invasive carp

Silver carp, one of four species of invasive carp in Illinois and the Great Lakes.
Silver carp, one of four species of invasive carp in Illinois and the Great Lakes region. Photo credit Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

(WBBM NEWSRADIO) — When it comes to efforts in Illinois and the Great Lakes region to combat invasive carp, failure has been the norm. Electric barriers fell short, as did walls of bubbles, and herding the carp into nets using underwater speakers wasn't the best choice.

The new strategy calls for traitors. It involves implanting transmitters in captured carp and tossing them back into the water to be double agents. In theory, these traitor fish will help pinpoint the hotspots of invasive carp.

Efforts to keep the invasive species out of the region’s $7 billion fishing industry are expected to cost $1.5 billion over the next decade — but armed with this intel, agency workers and anglers have been able to strategically deploy nets and make progress against the carp.

State and federal agencies have spent a combined $607 million to stop the fish, according to figures The Associated Press compiled in 2020.

The spy-inspired approach, though, has shown signs of promise, officials have said.

They’ve pointed to results in the Mississippi River, from the Illinois-Iowa Quad Cities to the Iowa-Missouri border. Real-time tracking there has helped wildlife managers and anglers as much as double the poundage of invasive carp pulled from that area of river annually, said Mark Fritts, a fish biologist and telemetry expert in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s La Crosse, Wis., office.

The strategy has drawn muted criticism from the fisheries industry because managers return tagged invasive carp to the wild where they can breed, said Marc Smith, policy director at the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center. But wildlife agencies need every weapon they can get against the carp, he said.

"In theory, it works," Smith said. "We think the rewards outweigh the risk. We have to throw everything we can at them. I wouldn't want to take anything off the table."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images