If you can't beat 'em, ship 'em. The state of Illinois is spending $2 million to ship invasive Asian carp back to China, where they're considered a delicacy. In Illinois, and the Great Lakes region, they're considered a political football. The monster invasive fish are already in Illinois rivers and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, a gateway to Lake Michigan. DNA testing suggests the carp have already made it to the lake, where they threaten to upset the ecosystem, outcompeting native fish for food. Some scientists doubt the carp would be able to survive in the lakes, which are already running low on food due to other invasives, like the quagga mussel.
At any rate, the state of Illinois has been in the crosshairs of carp worries. An electric barrier built in the canal to keep the fish from crossing over isn't foolproof, and a Bighead carp was caught beyond the barrier in June. There have been lawsuits and legislative proposals to shut down the canal and create a permanent barrier between that waterway and the Great Lakes. Of course, the canal is key to Illinois shipping, and associated jobs. President Barack Obama has appointed a "carp czar" to spearhead control efforts.
So the latest solution is a $2 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The money is going to Big River Fish Corp of Pike County, Illinois, which will use it to expand operations and export Asian carp back to China. The company is kicking in $1.5 million of its own money, and plans to create 60 jobs, according to Prairie State Outdoors.
Is this is a good play, going to back to the football analogy? There are business opportunities here, as highlighted recently by Circle of Blue. But the carbon footprint of shipping the Asian-imported fish back to Asia has to be pretty high. Is it higher than the blow the carp could deal to the lakes, or the damage that a closed canal could do to shipping?
30 Million Pounds
Big River Fish, which already processes fresh and dried fish, plans to ship 30 million pounds of Asian carp to China, under a contract with Beijing Zhuochen Animal Husbandry Co. Ltd. Apparently, the Chinese will jump at the chance to eat wild, river-raised Asian carp, which coincidentally are known for jumping out of the water and smacking Illinois anglers in the head. Rivers in China are too polluted to grow good-tasting jumpers.
Big River Fish plans to harvest 30 million pounds of carp by the end of 2011, according to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Then what? Can this be a self-sustaining export business in the future? What about getting the U.S. market to buy in? An NBC report says Big River plans to make $20 million a year by exporting the carp, and there's an estimated 100 million pounds in the Illinois River. For sure, this isn't a reason to let the fish reach the Great Lakes.