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Thousands of pounds of destructive Asian carp have been found in the Sangamon River near the base of the Lake Decatur dam, raising new concerns about their presence in Illinois waterways and their effect on native species. Anglers and others have to be vigilant in protecting our waterways.

A staff member at the Illinois Raptor Center in Macon County made a startling discovery recently while shooting video footage with a drone: a huge infestation of Asian carp in the Sangamon River below the Lake Decatur dam.

Almost immediately, the city of Decatur and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources went to work with a plan to use a huge net to capture several tons of the invasive species out of the Sangamon. They believe they acted before the fish could somehow find their way into Lake Decatur.

But Kevin Irons, who is manager of the IDNR aquaculture and aquatic nuisance species program, said there are Asian carp in downstate Illinois.

“They’re really throughout Illinois unfortunately. We’re doing a good job of keeping them out of the Great Lakes,” he said. “But they’re in the Mississippi River, the Wabash and those tributaries up to major fish deterrents like dams.”

In some larger tributaries, he believes they’re thriving so well that they’re reproducing. The area below the Lake Decatur dam is an ideal habitat for the Asian carp, he said.

“We’re pretty certain that there’s no carp up in Lake Decatur. But as that water comes over the dam, those fish are all lined up right where the water comes into the Sanagamon River and it’s like a Golden Corral Buffet. There’s food and fresh water, and they’re just standing in line,” he said.

No one is certain how the Asian carp got here, but they’re certain how to prevent it. The state is running a campaign called “Be A Hero, Transport Zero” that urges recreational users to take precautions against accidentally transporting all sorts of invasive species from waterways to other waterways.

“This is one of the major natural resource challenges we have throughout the world,” said Irons. “We have a global society. We have critters being transported all around the world, and they find their way through bait buckets and bait shops or someone who releases Free Willy out into the lake, and things get moved around.”

Anglers should drain bait buckets, bilges and live wells and throw their bait into the trash, not back into the water, he said, because you can accidentally introduce an invasive algae, fish or a plant into another lake. Likewise, sailors, jet skiers and even canoeists can spread invaders. Dispose, drain and dry after taking watercraft out is his advice.