STEM Cafe discusses fishy situation

By Jessica Cabe

Illinois is being invaded, but the threat is not extraterrestrial.

Asian Carp are causing big problems throughout the Midwest and have even made their way up to South Dakota, said Vic Santucci, Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) expert, who will speak at this month’s NIU STEM Café.

Santucci has been a fish biologist since 1985 when he earned his Master’s in zoology from Southern Illinois University. He has worked in the Aquatic Nuisance Species program at the DNR and focused on the Asian Carp problem for two years.

Santucci said the problem with Asian Carp began in the 1970s, when the fish were brought to the U.S.

“They were brought over to clean because they’re filter feeders,” he said. “They clean algae and plankton.”

The carp escaped before they got into the commercial market, and they have been making their way up the Mississippi River ever since. They are now present in the Illinois River and are coming toward the Great Lakes. They have built up populations in Illinois greater than in their home in Asia, Santucci said.

This is problematic because Asian Carp feed on the lower part of the food web, consuming things like plankton, which serves as food for many species of native fish, Santucci said.

Fortunately, there are plans in place to decrease the population of Asian Carp in the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, and preventative measures are being explored and implemented to keep the carp from inhabiting the Great Lakes.

There are some short-term benefits of this invasive species, such as the ability for commercial fisherman to catch and sell the carp. Also, just as hunters are able to donate unwanted venison to the needy, fishermen are able to donate carp. The carp can be used for fishmeal, fertilizers and fish oil, Santucci said.

Despite these positive effects, Santucci maintains that the Asian Carp must go, for they will cause more harm than good in the long run.

Santucci has given many presentations on Asian Carp, but this is his first time speaking at a STEM event.

“We found many people in the area who had interest in the topic,” said Judith Dymond, NIU STEM Outreach and Engagement associate. “We realized we needed to go beyond the university and partner with the DNR to find an expert on this topic.”

Aside from monthly STEM Cafés, NIU STEM Outreach provides many summer camps for community members.

“Our summer camp offerings are well received,” said STEM Outreach Director Patricia Sievert. “Our second year of offering Engineering Amusement for middle school campers filled up early. Those campers had a great week engineering amusement park rides and then went to Great America to experience them in person.”

Santucci will speak at this week’s NIU STEM Café from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Tapa La Luna restaurant, 226 E. Lincoln Highway. The event is open to the public and free to attend.