Flying Fish Festival and Bow Fishing Tournament bring economic and ecological solutions

By WEEK Reporter

July 12, 2014 Updated Jul 14, 2014 at 1:36 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- This Saturday was East Peoria's first-ever Flying Fish Festival and Bow Fishing Tournament.

Who knew these flying, flippy fish could bring so many people together.

"The research we've seen shows that there are 9.75 million tons of Asian Carp per mile on the Illinois River. There are millions of pounds of flying fish. The idea is--let's do something with them," said Peoria County Rural Economic Development Director John Hamann.

The Asian Carp make up more than 70 percent of the fish biomass in the Illinois River, but they don't belong. They are an invasive species that was originally brought in to clean up American catfish farms in the 70s.

"They are forcing the native fish out of the river, and they are also eating the algae and plankton that the native fish are using as well," said Illinois Department of Natural Resources specialist Rick Oneil.

A problem that is throwing the balance of overall biodiversity. Environmentalist worry the fish could soon be on their way to Lake Michigan.

The goal at the festival and tournament is to have people learn about the fish, catch the fish and then cook the fish. The event hosted Carter's, Par-A-Dice and Bass Pro Shops chefs making several varieties of the food -- Asian Carp tacos, fried carp and beer battered carp.

It is also a market that's appetizing to entrepreneurs. Peoria, East Peoria, Pekin and Chillicothe have all made bids or considered plans to have a carp processing plant in town. There are more than 10 interested parties looking to make it happen.

"It'll be a $5 million-$10 million project, so it'll create jobs in construction for people long term," said Peoria County Board member and event organizer Sharon Williams.

It is expected to bring 30-50 long-term jobs, not including the fishermen.

In the end, they all have their eye on the prize.

"To catch as many Asian Carps as you can," said fisherman Zach Nayden.

"To lower the number of Asian Carp on the river," said IDNR specialist Rick Oneil.

"To locate a processing plant in central Illinois," said Rural Economic Development Director John Hamann.

And, in this case, they would all win.