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Habitat restoration project puts 30,000 catfish in Chicago, Little Calumet rivers



Fish water draout hose depositing channel catfish inChicago River. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Fish and water drain out of a hose depositing the channel catfish into the Chicago River. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

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Updated: June 11, 2014 2:59PM

People looking down at the Chicago River from Wacker Drive on Tuesday may have caught a glimpse of the 10,000 catfish that had been dumped into the water.

In all, Friends of the Chicago River and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources released 30,000 channel catfish at two locations on Tuesday. Downtown, they were put into the water at Lower Wacker and Franklin Street. The other 20,000 were released into the Little Calumet River near Blue Island.

Releasing the catfish is the first step in a $300,000 habitat restoration project that includes installing nesting areas where the fish can reproduce.

“Today is just a sign of the comeback of the Chicago waterway,” said Debra Shore, commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. “Now many fish can thrive here, where many years ago, none could.”

John Quail, director of watershed planning for Friends of the Chicago River, said the catfish are a sign of how the river is much less polluted than it was 20 to 30 years ago.

The catfish released Tuesday were about a year old and a few inches long. They will be ready to reproduce in two or three years; Quail said it is hoped the fish will eventually repopulate the river system.

Catfish were released because most people are familiar with the species and it’s a fisherman’s favorite, Quail said. Unfortunately for those who like to fish — and those who like a good catfish dinner — the fish aren’t big enough to eat. And it’s not even known if they will be safe to eat, either.

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