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updated: 6/25/2014 6:52 PM

Color me skeptical on Chicago River catfish

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Even though there has been a tremendous public relations push to raise the image of the Chicago River, I'm guessing I'll never see a sparkling clean waterway in my lifetime.

Perhaps the 30,000 tiny channel catfish placed into the Chicago River drainage is a step in the right direction, but I remain skeptical.

This column is not meant as an insult to the throngs of anglers who cast their fate to the winds and into the murky Chicago River waters. Rather, it's an opinion column aimed at some of the decision-makers whose bureaucratic sensibility is something akin to the Cubs winning a World Series this year.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Mark Miller is a knowledgeable and decent chap, as well as good administrator. But even with outside funds given to the state, putting 10,000 channel catfish into the Chicago River, and 20,000 catfish into the Little Calumet River, could turn out to be a major gamble with the odds favoring the house.

And here's why. Those 30,000 whiskered ones entered a waterway that was reported to be a "cleaner environment" than in past years.

I chuckled when some people suggested those fish were "dumped" into the rivers. I believe that was appropriately stated. Dumped into a dump.

The urban rivers are still dumping grounds for pollutants, common garbage, stolen bicycles, and maybe a dead body or two, all because some bad people still look upon both rivers as convenient places to unload what humanity doesn't want or need.

There are well-intentioned anglers who allegedly took it upon themselves to plant largemouth and smallmouth bass into the water near the downtown skyscrapers. Add crappie and Flathead catfish to the mix, as well as some walleye to round out the bouillabaisse.

I doubt if any of the chic Chicago restaurants would offer any of the adult river fish as table fare. I can just picture it, a special offering of fresh "walleye pike" or freshly caught channel catfish (all brought in by angling customers) for a menu that declares, "you catch 'em, we'll cook 'em."

The late Buck Squancho and I took his canoe on an exploratory trip from Lawrence Avenue to some pretty dingy locales on the river. We were going to fish it like Chicago River rat Ken Schneider, but once we encountered the horrific level of junk and debris, we stowed our fishing lines in the canoe.

The cans and bottles in the river were too numerous to count. Wood pallets adorned some bank spots. Cardboard was everywhere, from large boxes to the small stuff. The closer we got to the near north side, we noticed a lessening of debris, but that was short-lived. It got worse again as the current carried us southward.

Some astute friends, people with backgrounds in biology, fisheries, and conservation, have all posed the same questions: "What will these new river residents eat to survive, or will they just become tasty appetizers for the larger predators now on station around the building walls and pilings?

• Contact Mike Jackson at, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and podcast at

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