‘Carp cowboys’ round up invasive Asian carp as Illinois, federal officials debate measures to protect Lake Michigan

CHICAGO — On a bleak and biting December morning, a team of state-contracted commercial fishermen at Starved Rock Marina slipped into their waders, salted down their johnboats to protect against ice and launched onto the Illinois River.

Armed with thousands of yards of netting, the fleet set course for a cove at Sheehan Island where they suspected a horde of silver and bighead carp, the most abundant and worrisome species of invasive Asian carp, were holed up for the winter.

Within less than a half-hour, the fishermen transformed the inlet, which is big enough to hold Millennium Park, into an enormous booby trap, layering netting from the shores to the mouth of the bay. Once they were finished, the stillness of the muted winter morning was broken by the fishermen collectively revving their motors, driving frenzied Asian carp into the nets.

While state and federal officials debate costly preventive measures, unreliable electrical barriers near Romeoville serve as the last rampart blocking these Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. In the meantime, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has been testing alternative approaches.

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