August 1, 2022
Photo by Blake Bushman.

Introduction to the Division of Fisheries

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By Kathy Andrews Wright

Managing the fisheries resources in Illinois has been ongoing for 200 years.

“Legislative actions regarding the Illinois fishery predates the declaration of Illinois Statehood on December 8, 1818, with passage of the 1817 legislative measure to provide for the damming of the Kaskaskia River to construct a ‘fishery,’” explained Mike McClelland, Chief of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Fisheries. “The first act for the preservation of fish—forbidding the obstruction of streams by dams, nets, seines or wires—was enacted by the General Assembly in 1871. More than two decades later, in 1897, a three-person state board of game commissioners was created and charged with the establishment of fish hatcheries and the appointment of a competent superintendent of the hatcheries who would ‘take all necessary measure for the propagation of native food fishes.’”

Over the past 150-plus years, the Illinois Game and Fish Commission was replaced by the Illinois Department of Conservation and then reorganized into the current Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) in 1995. Over time, research has improved the knowledge of our aquatic resources, legislative protections have been increased and programs have been created to benefit landowners and commercial and recreational anglers. Today, staff of the IDNR Division of Fisheries work to conserve and enhance the state’s fisheries and aquatic life resources.

The role of the Division of Fisheries is broad. Staff implement programs and policies to monitor management of fish populations for the protection and restoration of their habitats. Measures are implemented to prevent, manage and control aquatic nuisance species. Diverse recreational fishing opportunities are created. IDNR fish hatcheries produce 18 to 22 species of fish annually for stocking into the waters of the State. Commercial fishing is utilized as a fisheries management strategy. Fish, aquatic resources, anglers and commercial harvest are monitored, assessed and regulated. Educational programs and fishing clinics are conducted. Staff network with state sites, other units of local governments and conservation groups on a variety of issues.

A researcher holds a large fish while standing in a boat on a river. Underneath the image is text where one can learn more about fishing in Illinois.
Find the link to I Fish Illinois here and Little Grassy Fish Hatchery here. Find more on fishing in Illinois on social media: I Fish Illinois on Facebook; Jake Wolf Hatchery on Facebook; I Fish Illinois on Twitter. Photo courtesy of Blake Bushman.

“Illinois is a water-rich state, bordered by 800 miles of rivers and Lake Michigan,” McClelland noted. “Within our borders are more than 87,000 miles of rivers and streams, three reservoirs totalling 54,580 acres and more than 91,800 public, private and commercial impoundments. Utilizing many of these waters annually are nearly 1.2 million anglers (licensed, under 16 and private pond owners) as well as 40,000 non-resident anglers.”

A current staff of 78 conduct programs funded under the Fish and Wildlife Fund and the Fish Management Fund ($16 million annually) and federal funding opportunities for managing aquatic nuisance species ($6 million annually). Funding for these staff comes from Illinois fishing license sales and federal grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Sport Fish Restoration and nuisance species programs as well as the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through the USFWS. Fisheries staff also work on State Wildlife Grants for at-risk species throughout the state. While some of the funding, such as nuisance species efforts, are identified in federal and congressional legislative initiatives, Sportfish Restoration (Dingle-Johnson) funding directly and significantly contributes to IDNR Fisheries. The Sportfish Restoration Act (SFRA; or Dingle-Johnson Act) was passed by Congress in 1950. This Act is funded by sportsmen and women through excise taxes on fishing equipment, import duties, boats and a portion of the gasoline fuel tax identified from small boat motors. Illinois license dollars are then leveraged with federal SFRA to mange and improve Illinois Sportfish management. In 2022, Illinois’ portion of these funds based on license sales accounted for nearly $7 million.

“Scores of successes have been achieved in the more than 150 years fisheries staff have worked to conserve and enhance Illinois’ aquatic resources (see below),” McClelland said. “I am proud of the Division of Fisheries staff who remain relentless in their work to maintain a healthy and viable fishery and further expand angler opportunities.”

The IDNR Division of Fisheries is honored to be the newest OutdoorIllinois Journal partner and welcomes the opportunity communicate, and converse with, readers about fishing in the Prairie State.

A graphic with a photo on the left and text on the right. The photo is of a brick building with a flowerbed in front of a walkway. The text to the right is about fish hatcheries in illinois.
Photo courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources Division of Fisheries.
A graphic with two photos on the left and text on the right. The first photo is of a gentleman teaching a child to bow-fish. The photo underneath is a of a boy holding up a fish caught from the pond behind him. The text to the right is about the Illinois Urban Fishing Program.
Top photo courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources Division of Fisheries. Bottom photo by Brennnan Caputo.
A graphic with a photo on the left and text on the right. The photo is of a man posing while standing in a boat with a very large fish caught from the lake behind. The text to the right is about the cooperative fisheries management agreement in Illinois.
Photo courtesy of Blake Bushman.
A graphic with a photo on the left and text on the right. The photo is of a speckled green and gray fish swimming in water. The text to the right is about lake trout rehabilitation in Illinois.
Photo by Eric Engbretson, USFWS.
A graphic with a photo on the left and text on the right. The photo is of a green and bronze speckled fish swimming in a stream. The text to the right is about the salmon and trout fishery in Illinois.
Photo by Ryan Hagerty, USFWS.
A graphic with a photo on the left and text on the right. The photo is of a stream with a bridge against a partly cloudy sky. The text to the right is about stream connectivity and habitat in illinois.
Photo by Kevin Irons.
A graphic with a photo on the left and text on the right. The photo is of aquatic vegetation submerged in water. The text to the right is about non-chemical aquatic vegetation control in Illinois.
Photo by Ryan Hagerty, USFWS.
A graphic with a photo on the left and text on the right. The photo is of a scientist in a boat about to install a structure composed of PVC pipes to help anglers better locate sport fish and enhance their angling experiences. The text to the right is about impoundment fish habitat structures being installed in illinois.
Photo by Brennan Caputo.
A graphic with a photo on the left and text on the right. The photo to the left is of two scientists in a boat pulling up a large net in a boat full of fish. The text to the right is about the aquatic nuisance species program in Illinois.
Outreach efforts include “Be A Hero, Transport Zero” and Choose Copi. Photo by Blake Bushman.
A graphic with a photo on the left and text on the right. The photo is of one scientist wading in a river and another scientist in a boat floating on the river. Behind them is a trailer for hauling the boat. To the right is many research supplies. The text to the right is about fisheries research in Illinois.
Photo by Rob Hilsabeck.
A graphic with a photo on the left and text on the right. The photo is an aerial view of the Ohio river. The text to the right is about Interjusrisdictional fish management in Illinois.
Photo by Janet Butler, USFWS.

Kathy Andrews Wright is retired from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources where she was editor of Outdoor Illinois magazine. She is currently the editor of Outdoor Illinois Wildlife Journal and Illinois Audubon magazine.

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