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Aluminum Catfish Signs To Go Up Along Chicago Riverwalk To Tell Their Story

By Justin Breen | January 5, 2016 5:29am | Updated on January 8, 2016 2:01pm

DOWNTOWN — Over the past two years, nearly 200,000 channel catfish have been released into Chicago waterways.

Soon, visitors to the Chicago Riverwalk will see large, aluminum cutouts of the catfish with a narrative of their history and what they eat, among other things.

The new art exhibit, which will feature between 25 and 40 catfish cutouts, is expected to be completed by the end of March, according to Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River.

The metal catfish will be placed on the Chicago Riverwalk's ornamental gates, Frisbie said, in a "flowing pattern" heading east from Wabash Street to the Bridgehouse Museum at Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue.

The exhibit, steps from where people can actually fish for catfish, likely will be in place for 10 years, Frisbie said.

"People are surprised by how much wildlife lives in the river," said Frisbie, noting there were only seven fish species present in the Chicago River in the 1970s; now there are more than 70.

"We can show people that the river is alive," Frisbie added.

The catfish — a few inches long and a year old — were deposited starting in 2014. The last batch of fish was released in October, Frisbie said.

The project, which partnered the river group and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, also installed 400 nesting cavities — 250 in the Chicago River's North Branch and the North Shore Channel, and 150 more in the Little Calumet River on the city's Far South Side. In May, officials will begin investigating whether the catfish are using the cavities, similar to underwater logs.

"We'll see whether the cavities are playing an important habitat role," Frisbie said.

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