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New Shrimp In The Des Plaines. Few Shrimp Shacks in Chicago.

By JoshMogerman in News on Feb 2, 2013 10:00PM

Mississippi Grass Shrimp [USGS

Despite being thousands of miles from any ocean, you used to be able to pop into little riverside shacks all over Chicagoland for fresh fried shrimp. Seemingly more geographically appropriate critters like smelt, chubs and frog legs were available in the same paper bags with cocktail sauce sides---but it was the shrimp that Chicagoans gobbled up by the greasy pound. The shacks stubbornly clung to the banks of the Chicago and Calumet Rivers for decades after Chicago’s commercial fishing fleet disappeared. And a couple of vestigial shacks remain: Lawrence Fisheries on Canal (along the South Branch of the Chicago River) and the James Beard Award-winning Calumet Fisheries (next to the 95th Street Bridge in the shadow of the Skyway) are now celebrated institutions that continue to smoke and fry shrimp as they have done for decades.

While no restaurants are serving up anything plucked out of the Chicago or Calumet Rivers these days, the shacks used to get fish straight out of the Lake delivered to their waterway docks daily. Those boats did not have shrimp in their nets (they came from the Gulf and other regions), but now there are some freshwater crustaceans in the area.

This week the Lake County Forest Preserve District announced that their staffers had caught transparent Mississippi grass shrimp in the Des Plaines River (which connects with the Chicago River system via the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in the southeastern suburbs) last summer. It took more than a year to confirm the shrimp species because biologists have never seen them in northeastern Illinois before. An Illinois Natural History biologist tells Lake Forest Patch:

Palaemonetes kadiakensis almost always is associated with, and is most abundant in, living aquatic vegetation. Its reduction in distribution and abundance in Illinois is probably attributable to increased turbidity and sedimentation and the resultant loss of vegetation.”
Translation: the Des Plaines is getting cleaner. That’s great news, but don’t expect this find to revitalize Chicago’s shrimp shack culture…the Lake County critters are only about an inch long. Too bad, cuz we love us some Calumet Fisheries!