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Entries in Chicago (22)

Thursday
Apr132017

Feds Stall Even More on Plan to Protect Great Lakes From Asian Carp

What had been a slow walk to better protect the Great Lakes from invasion by Asian carp now has been delayed indefinitely.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been scheduled to release draft results of a study that it began in April 2015, with intent of structural or technological upgrades  at Brandon Road Lock and Dam on the Illinois River near Joliet. A final version was to be released in 2019. The area is downstream of electrical barriers, intended to repel silver and bighead carp, but which have questionable effectiveness.

But now release of the draft "has been deferred pending further coordination" with government officials and advocacy groups, according to Allen March, Corps spokesman. He added that more consultation is needed "to address things like the range of diverse ecosystems and national economies that could be impacted by outcomes of the study."

In a nutshell, Illinois, especially Chicago, and Indiana oppose any option that would include closing the manmade connection between the river and Lake Michigan or otherwise impede commercial navigation. Fearing what might happen to a billion-dollar sportfishery if the carp enter the Great Lakes, other surrounding states long have lobbied for more aggressive action.

"After a lengthy review process, which included extensive outreach and collaboration with a broad range of stakeholders, it seems that the administration has decided to side with a narrow group of special interests intent on preventing actions to address the movement of Asian carp toward Lake Michigan," said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

And Molly Flanagan of the Alliance for the Great Lakes added that "no credible reason" exists for additional delay.

The action was announced after 16 Congressional members, mostly from Illinois and Indiana, sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking for delay until a new assistant secretary of the Army for civil works is appointed.

In a statement, the lawmakers said the Corps "should not hastily recommend a structural alternative that could negatively impact the economy and the safety of towboat crews."

They also pointed out that 5 million pounds of carp have been removed from the Illinois River and argued that the leading edge of the invasion still is well below Brandon Road. But that amount is but a small fraction of the total biomass in the waterway. Additionally, the leading edge of the invasion by mature carp might not be advancing as rapidly as it once was, but the prolific exotics continue to spawn closer and closer to Lake Michigan. And the younger, smaller fish are much more likely to penetrate the electric barriers, possibly riding through in the wake of barge traffic.

Silver carp (top) and bighead carp.Do You Have a Better Idea?

Want to earn big bucks? Tell the state of Michigan how to keep Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes and possibly decimating the sport fishery there.

The state has allocated $1 million for the global competition, with most of it going toward a prize for the best idea. The rest will be used to publicize and initiate the campaign, expected to begin this summer.

"Somebody out there possibly could have a really good idea," said Joanne Foreman of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "Maybe they're not in fisheries or hydro-engineering."

Mary Flanagan with the Alliance for the Great Lakes added, "I think in the fight against Asian carp, there aren't really any bad ideas. We have to try a bunch of different things."

As silver and bighead carp spawn ever closer to Lake Michigan, the last barriers of defense are electronic barriers, but they are iffy at best. Officials fear that smaller fish could pass through them in the wakes of barges. Additionally, the best way to prevent invasion, closing the manmade connection between the Great Lakes and the Illinois River, almost certainly never will happen because of opposition from Illinois, Indiana, and power commercial navigation interests. Finally, the federal government, both under Barack Obama and Donald Trump, seems to see no urgency in developing a plan to keep the carp out.

All the other Great Lakes states, meanwhile, have pressed for years for an effective solution, with about $388 million spent since 2010, mostly by the feds. They have good reason to be concerned, too, as sport fishing in the Great Lakes region is worth about $7 billion annually. Michigan's tourism industry alone is valued at about $38 billion, with much of it focused on the outdoors.

Wednesday
Apr292015

Survey Reveals Carp DNA Throughout Chicago Waterway System

If Asian carp aren’t in the Great Lakes, they can’t get much closer. Sampling of the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) last fall revealed carp eDNA throughout the system, including near a lock in downtown Chicago, just one block from Lake Michigan.

“Prevention needs to happen now and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other key decision-makers should take swift action,” said the non-profit Alliance for the Great Lakes (AGL), which charges that the Corps lacks direction, as revealed in its Great Lakes-Mississippi River Interbasin Study.

“DNA evidence is an early detection tool to understand the potential movement of carp, and testing results have consistently found DNA hits on a path closer and closer to the Great Lakes over the past several years of testing,” the group added.

The Corps report outlined eight possible ways to stop migration of Asian carp into the Great Lakes, with the most expensive being an $18.3 billion separation of the CAWS from Lake Michigan. Meanwhile, the Alliance supports measures to temporarily reduce risk, including construction of a new channel and control technologies in the approach to Brandon Road lock and research on reconfiguration of locks in general.

But long-term issues with Chicago’s water system infrastructure must be addressed to keep the carp out, emphasized Jennifer Caddick, AGL spokesperson.

“It’s complicated. You can’t just build one dam and solve the whole problem,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but we need intensive focus.”

If/when Asian carp become established in the Great Lakes, consequences could be catastrophic for the multi-billion-dollar sport fishery. That’s because the exotic fish are fast-growing, prolific, plankton eaters. They likely would outcompete the many young and adult native fishes that rely on phytoplankton and zooplankton for their primary forage.

Additionally, the U.S. Geological Survey has identified 22 rivers in the U.S. portion of the Great Lakes that would provide suitable spawning habitat for Asian carp.

Wednesday
Sep032014

Dirk Encourages Anglers to Sink Teeth into Asian Carp Problem

Dirk grills Asian carp burgers.

Dirk Fucik has no illusions that he can turn back the Asian carp invasion that threatens the Great Lakes. But by making, selling, and even offering free samples of “carp burgers,” his Dirk’s Fish & Gourmet Shop in Chicago has been encouraging fellow anglers and others to slow the spread of these exotic species one bite at a time.

“We have been promoting the eating of Asian carp for about five years now,” said Fucik, a longtime member of B.A.S.S.

“We give out free samples every week at the shop, have worked with Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and Army Corp of Engineers to give away carp burgers at the Taste of Chicago, and we are partnered with the Shedd Aquarium in promoting the use of Asian carp.

“It’s a great-eating fish,” he added. “We just have to get past the bones and the stigma of carp.”

At Taste of Chicago, an annual food festival, Fucik typically gives away 800 burgers in two hours, with 90 percent of those who try them approving.

“When Americans think of carp, they think of German carp,” he said. “And that fish is a bottom feeder. It is a dark-fleshed meat, and it’s strong in flavor and bony.”

By contrast, Asian carp are plankton eaters, and their meat is white, resembling cod. But they are bony. To solve that problem, Fucik extracted the large bones and then ran the meat and small bones through a meat grinder.

“It’s similar to burger meat,” he said.

And at about $6 a pound, it’s much cheaper than salmon burgers at $18.

“We should all embrace the use of Asian carp for food purposes,” he said. “It is a great lean, low-fat protein and, being a problem invasive species, eating it is a great solution.”

Asian carp burgers with tomato jalapeno chutney.

Dirk's  Carp Burgers:

2 pounds Asian carp fillets, ground
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs( this is optional)
2 tablespoons fresh garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
4 teaspoons dry oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh oregano
4 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine all ingredients except panko crumbs. Grind the fish twice to make sure there are no more bones and to blend the spices. Add panko crumbs and form into patties or choose not to use breading. The burgers will be a little softer but just handle with care.

If you want to add cheese, use a soft cheese. Form a small ball of cheese and insert into the center of the burger. Form the burger around the cheese.

Cook for about 5 minutes per side on a hot grill, the cheese will start leaking out when they are almost done.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Monday
Jan272014

Indiana Moves to Reduce Pollution of Lake Michigan

Guide Dale Stroschein fights a Lake Michigan smallmouth. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Anglers, environmentalists and many others are pleased with a recent decision by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to reduce pollution of Lake Michigan and its fisheries.

A stricter IDEM permit requires BP’s Whiting oil refinery, just outside Chicago, to lower its mercury discharges from 23 parts per trillion to 8.75.

“We are pleased the agency responded to our recommendation by strengthening the mercury requirements and requiring BP to submit and update its stormwater plan,” said Lyman Welch of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Still, we are disappointed that IDEM did not go as far as we’d hoped to protect the waters of the Great Lakes.”

At BP, meanwhile, spokesman Scott Dean said that new technologies for pollution reduction are promising.

“BP is committed to protecting Lake Michigan and we are cautiously optimistic that our recent investment in new water treatment equipment will further reduce the Whiting Refinery mercury discharge,” Dean said. “Having said that, the mercury limit in the revised permit has decreased by more than half and the refinery needs to gain experience operating the new equipment before we will know if the refinery can successfully and consistently meet this revised limit.”

The company has almost completed a $3.8 billion expansion that will make it a top processor of heavy crude oil from Canada’s tar sand deposits. Following announcement of construction in 2007, IDEM allowed BP to increase its discharge of mercury, ammonia, and suspended solids.

Public outrage over that decision convinced BP to abide by stricter standards for ammonia and dissolved solids. But Indiana allowed an exemption for mercury as the company worked on technology to scrub its waste of that pollutant.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Tuesday
Sep102013

Separation Still Not Considered an Option for Keeping Carp out of Great Lakes

The latest manifestation of a strategy by the federal government to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes carries a $50 million price tag but still no mention of separating the lakes from the Mississippi River basin.

That omission does not please a growing number of stakeholders who believe that the only way to keep the exotics from destroying Great Lakes fisheries is by eliminating the manmade connection between the two watersheds.

“I think we could take carp control more seriously by disconnecting the Chicago waterway,” said Jim Diana, director of Michigan Sea Grant and a fisheries professor at the University of Michigan. “In absence of that, we’ll have all these kinds of temporary solutions that might work.”

And just a few months ago, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said, “Ultimately, I think we have to separate the basins. I really feel that is the ultimate solution. We have to do it.”

Until that announcement at a meeting of Great Lakes governors, most thought that Illinois would continue to side with Chicago and the Obama administration in opposing disconnection of the waterways.

Although it doesn’t include separation, the new 2013 Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework does call for an improved electric barrier south of Chicago, as well as creation of barriers at other tributaries feeding the lakes, nearly two dozen of which have been identified as potential entry points. It also calls for expanded sampling and emphasizes testing of new tools, including water guns, netting, chemical controls, and pheromone attractants.

“This strategy continues our aggressive effort to bolster our tools to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, while we work toward a long-term solution,” said John Goss of the White House Council on Environmental quality, who oversees the initiative.

“The 2013 framework will strengthen our defenses against Asian carp and more innovative carp control projects from research to field trials to implementation.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)