The IDNR, in cooperation with the Friends of the Chicago River, stocks 30,000 channel catfish into the Chicago Area Waterways

Marc Miller, Director of the IDNR, and Margaret Frisbie, Executive Director of Friends of the Chicago River, address the media.

June 11 — On Wednesday, June 11, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with the Friends of the Chicago River, released 30,000 channel catfish into the Chicago and Little Calumet Rivers as part of a program that shows how far those urban waterways have come environmentally. 10,000 catfish were released into the Chicago River from Lower Wacker Drive below the 333 W. Wacker building, and 20,000 catfish into the Little Calumet River, which runs south of the city.

"This is exciting because the Chicago River is evolving into a place where these fish can thrive," said Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River. "This project is symbolic of how far the Chicago River has evolved. We can release catfish and know that they will thrive."

IDNR tech Rick Webb traveled in the early morning from the Little Grassy Fish Hatchery with the 30,000 catfish to be stocked.

The fish release is part of a $300,000 restoration effort, paid for with a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Chi-Cal Rivers Fund, to increase the population of catfish in Chicago-area waterways. An additional 20,000 catfish will be released this summer and 50,000 will be released next summer.

Later this summer 400 nesting cavities in eight locations will be created, three in the Little Calumet and five in the Chicago River, so the fish will be encouraged to reproduce. The nesting sites will imitate natural objects where the fish plant their eggs.

"Channel catfish are native to the region. But they have not been abundant in the Chicago and Little Calumet Rivers because of limited habitat and poor water quality," said Marc Miller, director of the Department of Natural Resources. IDNR tech Rick Webb was on-hand for the stocking of the fish from the Little Grassy Fish Hatchery. The catfish released were about a year old, approximately 3–5 inches long and not quite ready to reproduce. Anglers will have to wait a few more years before these fish become fair game.

IDNR Fisheries Biologist Steve Pescitelli feels these fish have a good chance for survival. He expects them to be 6 inches by the end of the year and grow 3 inches a year until they are about 18 inches.

"Now that we have better water quality, this project is going to bring back a spawning habitat, and we think they're going to thrive here and take hold," Miller said. "And I think that's a positive step for the Chicago River and recreational fishing."

In the 1970s, before efforts to clean up the river began in earnest, there were only about three or four fish species living in the Chicago River. Today there are more than 70, Miller said. Fish populations are surveyed about every five years, and we will be monitoring the catfish's reproductive progress.