Wrapping up the 2020 Field Season

October 31st saw an end to the 2020 field season for most of our projects. To say 2020 proposed new challenges would be an understatement! Out of our Havana station, our various projects took us along the entire 270+ mile stretch of the Illinois River, from the outskirts of Chicago to its confluence with the Mississippi in Graton, Illinois, as well as 6 pools of the Mississippi River from Muscatine, IA to Quincy, IL (~132 river miles). In addition, our Black Carp team helped IDNR and USGS in sampling efforts below L&D 26 on the Open River portion of the Mississippi, catching a 45lb individual!

While activity winds down in Havana, our Yorkville crew continues their partnership with the IDNR in Asian carp harvest and control efforts on the Upper Illinois River. Our Upper Mississippi River team is also out partnering with commercial fishermen on Pools 14-19 of Mississippi to harvest Asian carp at the leading edge of their invasion.

2020 field techs
2020 Aquatic Field Technicians (Photo Credit: IRBS Staff)

Throughout the summer, we employed 19 technicians and 5 graduate students, along with 17 full-time staff at our Havana, Yorkville, and Upper Mississippi River locations. We are grateful for a strong year class of technicians and graduate students, without whom we wouldn’t have been able to complete our work. While some will be sticking around our pool of the river for a while longer, others are off to explore new waters. We wish them all well, wherever the flow takes them!

Post written by Kris Maxson

2020 Field Season!

We kicked off our 2020 field season this month! This year we are very busy again sending up to seven field crews out a day working on the Illinois River Waterway and Mississippi River. We have already sampled many riverine fishes including this spotted sucker (Minytrema melanops) and this northern sunfish (Lepomis peltastes). Follow our Facebook page for more cool photos and updates!

spotted sucker
Spotted sucker sampled in the Peoria Pool of the Illinois River.
northern sunfish
Northern sunfish sampled in the Dresden Island Pool of the Des Plaines River.

A Successful 2019 Field Season

IRBS technicians holding largemouth bass
IRBS technicians (left to right: Taylor Bookout, Christian Daniels, and Spencer Phillips) holding Largemouth Bass from the upper Illinois River (Photo by Andrya Whitten).

2019 Field Season Completed!

The staff of the Illinois River Biological Station wrapped up a successful 2019 field season at the end of October. This year we completed annual fish and water quality sampling on over five projects covering areas along the entire length of the Illinois River and select pools of the Upper Mississippi River. We employed and trained 16 field technicians on all projects and gained two new Aquatic Ecologists who work on the Asian Carp removal project on the Upper Mississippi River. Many staff members also attended and presented at conferences and participated at workshops during the field season such as the National American Fisheries Society conference in Reno, NV, the Organization of Biological Field Stations conference in Brussels, Belgium, and the International Society for River Science conference in Vienna, Austria.

Staff member holding a Paddlefish
IRBS staff member, Andrya Whitten, holding a juvenile paddlefish sampled in the lower Illinois River.

This field season, with the continual high water on both rivers, brought challenges in accessing and sampling portions of the river at times. However, we sampled some fish that we do not see often such as an american eel (Anguilla rostrata), paddlefish (Polyodon spathula), blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus), hybrid striped bass (Morone chrysops x Morone saxatilis), trout-perch (Percopsis omiscomaycus), and blue sucker (Cycleptus elongatus). Check out our Facebook page for more field season photos!

Carp play a role in disseminating plant seeds in the Illinois River

researcher holds fish
Mason Deja, INHS seasonal technician, holds a common carp from the Illinois River.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — As common carp forage in Illinois River sediment, they eat and scatter seeds of both beneficial plants and invasive species. A new IRBS and Forbes Biological Station study indicates that the particular seeds that carp consume and the distance at which they shed them could potentially alter the river ecosystem.

To find out more, read this article by the Prairie Research Institute.

Illinois sportfish recovery a result of 1972 Clean Water Act, scientists report

Illinois River
Researchers from the Illinois Natural History Survey have surveyed fish in the Illinois River since 1957. Here, the team uses electricity to stun the fish for capture. Photo by Aaron Yetter.

Turning the tables: application of commercial fishing helps fight the spread of Asian carp

Rivers help define Illinois both on our maps and in our minds. After decades of decline driven by pollution, the major rivers of Illinois—the Wabash, Ohio, Mississippi, and Illinois—started to improve after the Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972. Unfortunately, chemical pollution may be relatively controlled, but biological pollution, most recently with the arrival of Asian carp, has been skyrocketing. Since the 1970s, Asian carp populations have spread from the lower Mississippi River Valley up the Illinois River toward Lake Michigan. Silver and Bighead carp are the two species leaving the most concern in their wake.

These invasive fish don’t prey directly on many of the species we care about, so it is tempting to ignore the nuisance of flying schools of 30-pound Asian carp in our rivers. Think again. These invaders number in the millions, and each fish is a voracious eater of the microscopic plankton that sustains fish such as Largemouth Bass and Crappies, as well as endangered icons like the rock pocketbook or creek heelsplitter mussels. This means that Asian carp are a threat to Great Lakes fish, including the billion-dollar recreational and commercial industries. Because of this threat, agencies from the Great Lakes states and Canada have seen the population trends and are extremely concerned.

In an effort to prevent the spread of Asian carp into the Great Lakes while protecting all the gains we have made in our big rivers, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is using federal funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to help Illinois’ commercial fishermen suppress the exploding invasive carp population. The project has been ramping up since 2010 and involves multiple federal agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as students and researchers from many Illinois universities, including the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) and the University of Illinois (U of I). The project covers more than 90 kilometers of the river between the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet and the Interstate 39 Bridge downstream of Starved Rock State Park. It is a complex undertaking involving the newest technology in bubble, sound, and electric barriers and fish-counting sonar, coupled with centuries-old stalwarts such as gill nets. There have even been consultations with Chinese fisherman from the Yangtze River Valley, where these carp have been fished for centuries, on how to use multiple boat teams to conduct a thousand ton fish drive, like cowboys in the old west.

Using all these approaches, Illinois fishermen are becoming more adept at harvesting fish, with some recent state totals of up to 10,000 pounds. The big question, however, is whether these efforts are working. Does harvesting fish to suppress the Asian carp benefit our rivers? Early work from 2000 to 2010 showed a tremendous drop in zooplankton populations with planktivorous fish becoming malnourished over time. One key example is the Gizzard shad, an important forage fish for the recreational species Bass and Crappie. However, since 2010, improvements in zooplankton have occurred where harvest is very high (>8000 kilograms per month). Subsequently, an INHS team in Yorkville has shown that the health and condition of Gizzard shad have bounced back in areas where Asian carp numbers have declined the fastest.

Despite these successes, the threat from Asian carp is still great. Harvest works only as long as we keep the pressure on. INHS, the U of I, and the IDNR are collaborating to evaluate various physical barriers that complement harvesting; electric barriers, carbon dioxide bubble curtains, and hydrologic disconnection are just a few of the technologies being developed and evaluated to capitalize on the success of commercial harvests.

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