There are rivers in the Midwest that are just flush with fish. Normally, that would be great, but these are two species of invasive Asian Carp – and they shouldn’t be there in the first place. These foreign fish breed so quickly and grow so large, they push out native fish species. There are entrepreneurs who dream of getting rid of Asian carp. Shawn Allee looks at what they’ve cooked up and whether it could do any good:
There are rivers in the Midwest that are just flush with fish. Normally, that would be great, but these are two species of invasive Asian Carp – and they shouldn’t be there in the first place.
These foreign fish breed so quickly and grow so large, they push out native fish species. There are entrepreneurs who dream of getting rid of Asian carp.
Shawn Allee looks at what they’ve cooked up and whether it could do any good:
One businessman wants to take on Asian carp.
He’s John Holden and he started up the brand-new Heartland Processing company.
When I visit his factory in central Illinois, Holden walks me around his machines.
They transform fresh carp into fish oil and dry fishmeal. Holden says the fishmeal might make good pet food.
He’s tested it his own dog.
“He just inhaled it. You got more of that for me?”
Unfortunately, there are no carp today – and I have to settle for a dry-run demo.
John Holden is a doctor by trade, but he started his business after he watched Internet video of carp in the Illinois River.
“I went onto YouTube, and I said, this is nuts.”
“What did you see when you went onto YouTube?”
“Fish jumping like it was boiling water. The most poignant one was the department of natural resources one. All of a sudden they’re jumping out of the river, and smacking the DNR people.”
Actually, a guy from the state Department of Natural Resources is on-hand to vouch for this. He’s Chris McCloud.
“We’ve had conservation police have their teeth knocked out.”
“You’re kidding me.”
McCloud says the state wants to cut back the carp population – not out of some vendetta, but because silver and big-head Asian carp pretty much took over the Illinois river from native fish.
McCloud says the agency’s got a plan.
Commercial fishing fits into it.
“It basically says, let’s see what this can do and then determine how much processing would be needed to make a dent in a population that’s so voracious.”
Now, my question is: Will massive, commercial harvesting of carp really work? I mean, the Illinois river’s 275 miles long, and I’ve seen videos that it’s thick with Asian carp.
To get an informed opinion, I head to the Illinois Natural History Survey.
Kevin Irons works there – he tracks carp populations along the Illinois River.
“As biologists we’re very encouraged by the Heartland Processing plant and commercial fishermen that are taking the fish out. From some of the research we’ve looked at, the only way we can reduce the numbers is by commercially harvesting them”
Irons walks me through his argument.
To start, he opens a freezer.
“These are the ones that will jump out and hit ya.”
“This one’s like 2.5 feet long.”
“That’s a relatively small one. There are many that are 3-4 feet long.”
Irons says the two troublesome varieties of Asian carp are native to Russia, the Mideast and China.
They’re small in China – they’re super-sized here.
“Nowhere else in the world do we have populations like this because they’re over-fished everywhere else. People in the YangTze River rarely see them over 4-5 pounds because they’re taken soon in their life cycles.”
How big can they get here?
“The world record was taken in St. Louis – nearly a hundred pounds.”
Irons says Chinese and other ethnic food markets in the US sell Asian carp but most Americans won’t touch them.
“We might go to a restaurant and get a walleye or perch fillet – they’re boneless and they’re beautifully done. These can be just as tasty, but they have bones. My wife, if she gets a bone in her fish, she’s just about done; she doesn’t want to mess with the bones. We’re pretty spoiled.”
Irons says if most Americans won’t eat Asian carp, maybe processors like Heartland can pick up the slack by making them into pet and animal feed.
It might not eliminate carp, but Irons says it might get darn close.
If it works too well – and Heartland runs out of fish on the Illinois River – Irons says there are plenty of carp waiting for processing in the Mississippi and other rivers.
For the Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.