Asian Carp: "I Feel Like I Was in a [Bleeping] Prize Fight”

Folks outside the Midwest might be scratching their heads wondering what all the hubbub is about with these Asian carp… Here on Switchboard, we’ve talked a lot about the ecosystem, legal, and infrastructure issues around the problem. But we haven’t really talked much about their impact on quality of life—that’s the easiest part to show.

I ran into the clip below on the TwentyNow blog’s posting entitled, “Why is this boater wearing a helmet…” That question is answered in the first 90 seconds of this video (but be warned, you might want to turn off your speakers at work or around kids):

I love the "That was like a [bleeping] right cross to the chin!” comment…

The footage was shot near Ottawa, IL which is southwest of Chicago near the confluence of the Fox and Des Plaines Rivers. Also in the area is Starved Rock, one of the region’s most gorgeous state parks. People flock there to see its chimney rock formations (I think it is particularly gorgeous in the winter when the waterfalls freeze). The park isn’t really affected by the growing infestation of invasive species in the nearby waterways. But it does beg the question about what impact the growing Asian carp problem could have on Illinois tourism. And eventually the tourism throughout the Great Lakes region.

In the debate over whether immediate, temporary action should be taken to prevent the big fish’s advance on Lake Michigan, much has been made of the impact a short-term closure of the locks would have on barge operators. But very little attention has been focused on what an infestation of Asian carp in Lake Michigan could mean to the much larger tourism industry. Statewide, $30.8 billion was spent by visitors to Illinois in 2008, yielding $2.1 billion in state and local taxes and generating 303,500 jobs according to the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. Sure, plenty of that money goes to my hometown of Springfield and its fantastic Lincoln sites, not to mention the rest of the state. But there’s no doubt that a huge chunk of that comes to Chicago and Lake Michigan is a big part of the city’s pull. As my colleague Henry Henderson so eloquently asked in a recent blog post, “What happens if a kid gets whacked by one of these whopping fish on Oak Street Beach?” Well, it won’t help tourism…

And it won’t help the tens of thousands of Chicagoans who enjoy the lake shore that is so central to all that makes this city livable. Nor will it help the thousands of people fishing and sailing out of this city, which boasts one of the largest fleets of privately owned boats in the nation.

Watching that video, and plenty of others just like it on YouTube, you can understand how life has changed in places with invasive Asian carp infestations. In Peoria, where the fish are packed to the gills in the Illinois River, residents feel like water skiing and jet skiing are no longer possible in their home waterway. I’d hate to see the same thing here in Chicago… I don't want to have to buy a helmet for my lakefront strolls.

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