Electrofishing attempts to control Illinois’ invasive fish threat


Asian carp, or copi, as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources recently rebranded, continue to be a growing problem in Illinois. 

The big fish are famous for damaging boats, breaking equipment and even injuring people.

Fish farmers used Copi to control algae in the 1970s and their numbers exploded in the early 2000s. 

Carp populations proliferate and all their eating reduces the amount of food for other fish. 

The state is trying to get creative to control the invasive species before they reach the Great Lakes and destroy the ecosystem.  

Nick Barkowski, a fish biologist with the US Army Corps of Engineers, has tracked the invasion of Asain carp for more than 14 years.

“Now you have competition, you have a lot of these invasive fish species that are eating the same thing that our native fish species are eating and you can start having some imbalance with the ecosystem,” Barkowski said.

States are spending millions of dollars to control the problem and are trying to get creative.    

Last month, the state’s Department of Natural Resources renamed the fish in hopes of making it more appealing to people. Fish biologists are on board, saying it’s a great campaign. 

“It’s just getting it out there and getting people past this mindset of, ‘oh, it’s a carp, it’s a nasty fish,’ but it’s not, it’s really not,” Barkowski said.

A special technique called electrofishing pumps electricity into the water and creates a current in front of the boat. It temporarily stuns the fish, so they float to the surface and are quickly caught.  

Electrofishing is also used to tag Asian carp and track them.

“That allows us to effectively see the fish, net them, count them, and it’s rapid and quick,” Barkowski said.

That helps experts pinpoint locations that are heavily populated, and then contracted fishermen can go in and extract them. 

Since 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pulled more than 11 million pounds of Asian carp out of the Illinois River. At this point, they say it’s just a matter of controlling the population.  

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