CHICAGO — Don't be too quick to shove a forkful of the Chicago River's 10,000 new channel catfish into your mouth.
The catfish — only a few inches long and a year old — were released into the Chicago River at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at 333 Lower Wacker Drive, with 20,000 other channel catfish released at the same time in the Little Calumet River off Blue Island. Though the catfish will grow to be 18 to 30 inches long, fishermen will need to pay attention to the state's fish advisories when determining if the fish are safe to eat, especially because the Chicago River is recovering from a long history of pollution.
" ... These fish will be able to be consumed in limited [quantities]," said Marc Miller, Illinois Department of Natural Resources director. "Contamination is still a concern, but much less than it was 10 to 15 years ago."
But the fish are a sign that water quality is turning around, and 70,000 more fish will be released into the river during the next 1½ years.
"... The water quality has improved dramatically," said Margaret Frisbie, executive director of the Friends of the Chicago River, one of the organizations the arranged the fish release.
Frisbie said the improvement has come as less sewage goes into the river. The city's Deep Tunnel program and the federal Clean Water Act have helped with the improvement, but the river could improve through green initiatives that would promote stormwater being absorbed into the ground instead of going into the river, Frisbie said.
The catfish were selected because they are native to the river and are a "sport" breed good for recreational fishing, Miller said.
The release was aided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which supplied the catfish through a hatchery. Miller said the department is also helping Friends of the Chicago River by consulting with them on the river's habitat needs.
To help the catfish, about 400 nesting cavities will also be installed throughout the summer at eight locations in the Chicago area from the North Shore Channel to the Little Calumet River. The nests will be made of open-ended PVC pipe.
The project is funded by a $300,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Chi-Cal Rivers Fund, according to a news release.
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