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30,000 Catfish Plunge into Cleaner Chicago River

Jun 11, 2014 12:29 PM EDT

About 30,000 channel catfish were released into the Chicago and Little Calumet rivers Tuesday to showcase just how far restoration efforts to the waterways have come.

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

Frisbie's group, along with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, oversaw the release of 10,000 catfish into the Chicago River and 20,000 catfish into the Little Calumet River, which runs south of the city.

As part of a $300,000 restoration effort funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Chi-Cal Rivers Fund, officials are bringing more catfish to their native Chicago-area waterways. An additional 20,000 catfish will be released this summer and another 50,000 will follow next summer.

The fish release is just one part of the project. In order to boost their populations, plans are in place to create 400 nesting cavities at the bottom of the Chicago River so the fish will be encouraged to reproduce. The nesting sites will be as natural looking as possible, imitating objects like wood logs where the fish plant their eggs, Frisbie said.

Catfish haven't been abundant in the region for years because as the city continued to develop, their reproduction habitats dwindled, as did the river's water quality.

Fisherman will have to wait before they pillage the rivers, as these released catfish are only about a year old, five inches long and aren't yet at reproducing age.

"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," Marc Miller, director of the Department of Natural Resources, said, according to News Tonight Africa. "And I think that's a positive step for the Chicago River and recreational fishing."

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