Jumping, flying carp species injuring boaters on Illinois'

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Jumping carp! It's not just a fish story; residents gripe, swap tales of injury.


Published Monday, December 17, 2001

By Sue Britt, Belleville  News-Democrat  

When they first started showing up back in 1994, they were a novelty. People laughingly referred to them as the ``Kaskaskia River Dolphin.''

Silver carp jump as high as 5 feet in the air. The Asian fish seem to jump a lot when the weather is warm, the river is low and especially when aluminum boats pass by.

Cherie Smith owns the Kaskaskia River Marina with her husband Ervin ``Smitty'' Smith and said everyone thought it was funny at first, but it is not funny now --Êthe fish are jumping into boats.

``(It) was pretty cool until people started getting eight or 10 in their boat,'' Smith said.

Smith called the Illinois Department of Natural Resources because she thought someone was mutating the fish by dumping radioactive material into the river.

That was not the case. Instead, it is theorized this exotic species was introduced into the Mississippi River during the 1993 floods, when the fish escaped from farmers' ponds, where they were kept for algae control.

At Smitty's tavern on the marina, stories abound about people who have been hurt by fish flying through the air.

Some have heard a woman was sent to the hospital after one flew into her face and broke her nose while she was boating near Evansville.

Another man was said to have been traveling about 70 miles per hour on the river when a fish hit him on the chest. One woman who frequents that area of the river is said to bring a cookie sheet with her to use as a shield when she goes out on the water.

There was talk at Town Hall Archery in Belleville of a man who got his glasses broken by a jumping fish, and Redbud resident Corey Seders said one hit his mother about four months ago.

``It flew right up over the boat and smacked her right in the shoulder,'' he said. ``She had a bruise for a week.''

The silver carp is causing more problems than that, said Randy Sauer, an IDNR stream biologist.

The fish can grow to 30 to 40 pounds and consume massive amounts of plankton, robbing from the native game fish, such as young bass, according to Sauer.

Minnows and shad -- small fish that are the feed of game fish -- also could starve if the silver carp eat too much plankton.

``They kind of go nuts and sometimes out-compete some of the more desirable native species,'' Sauer said. ``They have an unfair advantage because they have no natural enemies.

``Once the horse gets out of the pond, it's hard to control these species. They don't play by the rules,'' he said.

Sauer wants people to eat them.

``That's almost a marketing thing to get people to eat them,'' he said.

The people at Smitty's restaurant are not interested. They all cringe when they talk about the oily, bloody fish.

``They're all slimy,'' Smitty said. ``It's just a real, real ugly fish.''

Bill ``Doc'' Dachsteiner said people are prejudiced about eating carp, but he has seen them cooked at fish frys, and people eat them without knowing it.

``Carp's good eating if you clean it right,'' he said. ``It's not as bad as a lot of people make it out to be. It's just a matter of taking the time to do it up right.''

A few people have suggested shooting the fish like skeet, and the Smiths are thinking of having a competition next summer to get some of the fish out of the water: Whoever catches the most fish that have jumped into his boat wins.

The people hanging out on the river know there is a law against putting dead fish back in the river, but they joke about ways to rid the waters of these fish.

``The only rule (for the competition) is, you can't put them back in the river alive,'' Cherie said.
 

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