By the end of this month, Illinois residents will no longer hear the words “Asian carp”. How can this be after several years and hundreds and hundreds of millions of trying to keep them off the Great Lakes?
And why is this news making environmentalists and the state’s commercial fishing industry swim or jump with optimism?
Dirk Fucik says he discovered the seafood cuisine that might one day be more popular than tilapia: Asian carp.
“It’s healthier than tilapia. Tilapia is omega 6 instead of omega 3, so you get far fewer health benefits from tilapia, ”says Fucik, supplier to the popular North Side fish and gourmet shop, Dirk’s Fish and Gourmet Shop.
To prove his point, Fucik recently spent a Saturday afternoon in the parking lot of his shop grilling creative carp dishes, from Cuban carp burgers to carp tacos to regular old smoked carp. But despite the equipment, the Asian carp is still not a bestseller.
“I’m not making any money with it right now,” said Fucik.
As you may know, Asian carp are the leaping, invasive fish that have taken the Illinois waterways by storm. Governments have spent hundreds of millions keeping them off the Great Lakes for fear they could destroy the lake ecosystem.
But now the Illinois Department of Natural Resources thinks it might have found a solution, and it costs next to nothing. You are going to change the name of the fish.
“We’re trying to make the name more appealing so people will be more likely to buy it and eat it, eat it for dinner,” said John Rogner, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
What exactly is wrong with the Asian carp name?
“You made a face when I said carp. When I say carp everyone makes that face, ”said Fucik on a recent visit to his shop.
A typical carp is a bottom feeder – a smelly, sticky fish that won’t be appetizing to anyone. However, Asian carp feed on plankton and are not like other carp.
“When it comes to freshwater fish, if properly prepared, it’s probably as good as it gets,” says David Buchanan, a professional fisherman north of Peoria.
We visited Buchanan and commercial fishing partner Clint Carter on a recent morning and retrieved £ 4,000 worth of Asian carp and other fish from the Peoria Pool portion of the Illinois River. Carter says he recently invested in a new boat and fishing tackle in anticipation of an upcoming boom in demand for the name change.
“It will help us grow our business and harvest these fish,” Carter said.
Right now, commercial fishermen are receiving a government subsidy to fish Asian carp from the Illinois River to control a huge population that has been drafted and taken over.
Most of the fish caught are used for manure or other industrial purposes. But others, especially the Asian big head carp, could soon be on your plate if they have an enticing new name.
As for the naming criteria, Fucik has some ideas.
“You know, simple, short and no carp,” he said.
And there are precedents for that. The Chilean sea bass was originally called the Patagonian hake. Orange roughie was originally known as the Pacific slime head.
After a normally productive day in the Peoria pool, Buchanan and Carter bring their cargo to the Sorce Freshwater Company, a fish processor and trader based in Peoria. Owner Roy Sorce says he restarted the business nine months ago after selling groceries and dry goods for 50 years. He also relies heavily on the name change.
“The creation of jobs is almost limitless due to the number of fish. We created 30-40 new jobs in the first nine months, mostly from the fishermen, ”said Sorce.
Sorce says the meat is lily white and plentiful. But there is another obstacle to culinary success.
“The only bad thing about carp is that it’s bony, and I can’t give you an 8-ounce piece of boneless carp,” said Fucik. “Like salmon or tuna, so it has to be ground and made into burgers, sausages, hot dogs, meatballs, taco meat or anything with minced meat.”
That brings us back to our taste test. The reviews of Fucik’s carp broths were mostly satisfactory from the customers.
“The general impression I got is that it is a throwaway fish. But it tastes good, ”says customer Katharine Hannaford.
Illinois officials will announce the name change on June 29 in hopes that fish lovers will protect the Illinois waterways and Great Lakes from an aggressive invasive species by eating plenty of it.
“I mean, there are so many things you can do with this protein and it is going nowhere,” said Fucik.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz