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IDNR changes Asian Carp's name to Copi to encourage harvesting and consumption to block their expansion to the Great Lakes

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources unveiled a new name and re-branding campaign for the Asian Carp to clear up public misconceptions about the invasive species. There are four different types of carp that are considered invasive in the United States: bighead, black, grass and silver carp.

Asian Carp
Alex Garcia
IL Dept of Natural Resources
(Photo by Alex Garcia)

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources unveiled a new name and re-branding campaign for the Asian Carp to clear up public misconceptions about the invasive species.

There are four different types of carp that are considered invasive in the United States: bighead, black, grass and silver carp.

They’ve been used in aquaculture for centuries because of their food source. Silvers eat plankton, the black eats mussels and snails, the bighead eats zooplankton and the grass eats aquatic plants.

Jim Garvey is the Director of the Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences at SIU and says in the 70’s, the carp found their way to the Mississippi River basin from flooding and accidental release.

“Now they can be found in the upper Mississippi River, the Missouri River, the Ohio River, Tennessee River drainage and of course lots of lakes and things like that and they continue to slowly creep throughout the United States. They can easily get introduced into the eastern seaboard as well as the Western drainages.”

Garvey says these fish are causing major headaches in the United States and Canada, as experts in the two countries try to contain them and to stop them from spreading out farther.

“The big problem is, is that they're getting close to the Great Lakes and there's a very big concern among policymakers, managers that they're going to get into the Great Lakes and then harm the recreational and commercial fisheries that are there.”

If they do reach the Great Lakes that could mean trouble.

“It could be an ecological and economic armageddon for the fishes that are out there and also for other species, they are voracious feeders on, so plankton and phytoplankton, so these are very small aquatic animals and aquatic plants that are important for the food chain and feed other fishes like yellow perch and trout, things like that and so the concern is that once they get in there, they'll knock out the bottom of the food chain and then cause a fisheries collapse.”

The carp are able to push out other native fish species because they've evolved a much faster reproduction rate - which they needed because in their original habitat they had a high mortality rate.

“A single female big head or silver carp can produce almost a million eggs so you know, you multiply that by hundreds of thousands of fish. We're talking about a tremendous amount of reproductive potential.”

After 20 years of research Garvey says the best way to control the population is to harvest them.

“Research that we've done here at SIU that we started with suggests that yes, if we do a good job of fishing these down in proper places, primarily the Mississippi and the Illinois rivers right now that we can cause their populations to contract and actually they'll slowly move back towards the center range and hopefully we'll be able to reduce their spread throughout the United States and Canada.”

One way to get more people to eat these harvested fish is to rebrand it including changing the name to Copi.

“There's been some concern about the word Asian carp being one maybe has a negative connotation because we're, you know, grouping them into a whole group of folks, so there's a cultural issue, but also the word carp can have negative connotations and so there has been a push for 20 plus years to try to get these fish renamed and so this has been the first successful attempt to get an official renaming and re-branding of these fish from the Carp moniker to the Copi moniker, which stands for copious is the short term for that.”

Span is the Chicago based graphic design company heading the campaign and Design Principal Nick Adam says they chose the name Copi as a play on the word copious, because of the high number of copi in waterways.

“This is because the fish has a name-based perception issue. The great news is this isn't a unique problem. This has been solved many times before through renaming and we know that renaming food works Orange Roughy. Its originally known as slime head due to its mucus glands and it became Orange Roughy because it was impossible to sell or to serve something called Slimehead.”

Garvey says they’re also less difficult to eat than the fish people are used to.

“When we think of fish bones, we often think of those little tiny pin bones that you would get in a fish that you're eating and they get stuck in your teeth in the back of your throat one of the benefits of Copi is that they have very large bones and so they're bony, but the bones are manageable, so it's akin to eating a chicken wing, you know, 30 years ago someone would say, eat a chicken wing, it's just all bone. But now it's a people love it. The same thing with Copi, you can pick around the bones and eat it that way, or there are ways to fillet them or process them so that you can use the meat for a whole variety of different things.”

Cristaudo’s in Carbondale uses Copi on occasions for fish tacos for the Southern Illinois Collaborative Kitchen.

Co-owner Leah Maciell says Copi can be used in a variety of different ways.

“So far, we've had really good feedback for it so and this is probably about the third time that we have made Copi tacos with it in the last few years so and people seem to really enjoy it. I've also known some chefs that have made, like fish cakes out of it that have had a really good reception to it, so it's just a really good product to work with and there is an abundance of it and I'm kind of happy that they're utilizing something that's already in abundance in our rivers that it's not necessarily supposed to.”

Maciell says it’s also very easy to cook with.

“It's pretty easy. It comes already minced and it's such a mild flavor that it basically just, like, absorbs anything that you put on it. I kind of compare it to that tofu fish, so it basically just has a mild flavors like that lend itself to anything.”

Garvey says it with marketing and time more Americans may start seeing Copi at grocery stores and restaurants.

“The problem we've had over the last 20 or 30 years of trying to get these into the market is that there hasn't been any coherent message sent to the American consumer. Now, with Copi and a commitment on both the federal and the state sides, there is a real interest in continuing to push this now for at least four or five years. With the hope that this will help to allow markets to then just take over the slack and help us control these that way.”

For InFocus I’m Benjy Jeffords.

Benjy Jeffords is a digital media production specialist at WSIU Public Broadcasting located at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Contact WSIU Radio at 618-453-6101 or email wsiunews@wsiu.org