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Exotic Fish

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In 1960, when Japanese Emperor Akihito visited Chicago, Mayor Richard J. Daley presented him with a bluegill from the Mississippi River as a token of Japanese-Illinois friendship.

Or was it? It may have been his honor’s clever way of getting even for the carp, a Japanese native. Carp, or koi as the Japanese call them, were introduced into the Mississippi waterway in 1879, where their ability to survive under adverse conditions have helped them push out native species, who cannot compete for food and breeding grounds.

Species such as the sliver, bighead, and grass carp have been especially troublesome. The bighead carp has become so abundant on the Missouri stretch of the river that commercial fisherman often cannot lift their nets because of the weight.

Mayor Daley may have known exactly what he was doing. Back in Japan, Emperor Akihito placed the bluegill in one of the 13 moats which surround the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Somehow, a largemouth bass tagged along and ended up in the same moat.

Today, 40 years later, 99% of the fish population in eight of the moats are Mississippi bluegills and largemouth bass. They have driven out the koi and other native Japanese fish such as the stubby and round goby.

Not all of the round goby have been eaten, however. Several were accidentally released in the Great Lakes (or so the Japanese claim). For the last few years, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has been desperately trying to keep the Japanese goby from finding their way down the Chicago and Illinois rivers to the Mississippi, where they will upset our native species even more, but the electrical grid installed to keep them out isn’t perfect. Last year’s annual goby roundup found at least one already on its way here.

Someone in Illinois or Japan had better put an end to the gift exchange soon, or in another 40 years, the water around the Imperial Palace may have to be renamed the “Mississippi River,” while the stream between Illinois and Iowa will become “Imperial Moat Number Seven.”

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.