Photo taken on Oct. 30, 2017 shows fisherman Mark Buttler is collecting nets and has captured a big Asian carpe on the Mississippi river, Kentucky, the United States. (Xinhua/Liu Yifang)
by Xinhua writers Xu Jing, Miao Zhuang and Liu Yifang
CHICAGO, Nov. 3 (Xinhua) -- After less than 10-minute cruising on the Mississippi River in west Kentucky, Mark Buttler stopped his boat near a shoal and began to cast nets. He harvested 400 pounds of fish from two fishnets on this bright autumn morning.
For the 62-year-old fisherman, who joined his father for fishing soon after high school graduation in the westernmost part of the U.S. state of Kentucky, the daily routine also includes selling his catch to a local business run by a Chinese entrepreneur.
Buttler has been fishing almost every day on the Mississippi River for more than 43 years. Before 2013, he sold his fish either to a market up north or to a seafood restaurant in Ledbetter, Kentucky. Then Angie Yu came to the City of Wickliffe in west Kentucky and opened the Two Rivers Fisheries to process fish from the Mississippi.
"The year she opened, we started selling to her. She pays a good price and she's just been good to us," Buttler told Xinhua. "She's closer and that's where we've been ever since. I have no need of searching for other places."
Buttler was not the only one who embraced Yu's business. Wickliffe, a small town with a population around 800, a per capita income of slightly more than 17,000 dollars and 16.1 percent population living below the poverty line, received Yu with open arms.
"It (Two Rivers Fisheries) brought a little more hope that there would be more jobs. It's a good place and it's going to get better. Jobs are important, everybody likes jobs," Wickliffe Mayor George Lane told Xinhua. "They (local residents) all hope she does well, and everybody likes her. It would be really good to get more workers."
Photo taken on Oct. 30, 2017 shows workers of the Two Rivers Fisheries are unloading the Asian carpe collected from local fishermen, Kentucky, the United States.(Xinhua/Liu Yifang)
Tod Cooper, Ballard County Executive, said Yu and her Two Rivers Fisheries a "tremendous asset to the community." As an agricultural county and part of the agriculture is fishing industry, "we still have one of the highest unemployment rates in the western part of the state of Kentucky, so we really think if Angie could expand that would really help employ some of the people that are unemployed right now," Cooper told Xinhua.
Before launching Two Rivers Fisheries in 2012, 60-year-old Yu had been engaged in international trade. In this sense, the company is just an extension of her business, as she is exporting 80 percent of the processed fish to the Middle East, East Europe and Asia.
Two Rivers Fisheries now employs 16 local residents doing processing work in plant, and purchases fish regularly from more than 70 fishermen nearby. The production was 500,000 pounds in the first year of production in 2013, then doubled to one million pounds in 2015, and further doubled to two million pounds in 2016.
Yu has not stopped on this. She recently signed an agreement with Jiangsu Rentian Agricultural Technology Co. Ltd from China, under which the latter will provide its "Immersion Freezing Technique" and an investment of 40 million dollars.
With the technique that can freeze fresh products to minus 18 degrees in 20 minutes to keep the freshness and taste of fish, and the 40-million-dollar investment, "we can double or triple the production, that means we need hiring additional 300-plus workers," Yu said.
Yu's efforts also coincide with the U.S. government's eagerness to remove some of the Asian carp from the river.
In the 1970s, the United States imported Asian carp to resolve the problem of plankton. In early 1990s, the Asian carp got into the Mississippi River and since then they have expanded and multiplied rapidly.
"They can have over one million eggs as far as their fecundity goes and... they outgrow all the native predators and that allows them to multiply like crazy and they've pretty much been able to outcompete a lot of native fishes," said Sara Tripp, Large River Ecologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, in an interview with Xinhua.
"They're really starting to have an effect on the native fish in the Mississippi River," Tripp stressed.
Photo taken on Oct. 30, 2017 shows Angie Yu (Front Right) of Two Rivers Fisheries signed an agreement with a representative of Jiangsu Rentian Agricultural Technology Co. Ltd in Kentucky, the United States.(Xinhua/Liu Yifang)
In order to contain Asian carp from entering the Lake of Michigan and then the other lakes in the surrounding area, the U.S. Federal Government has worked out various ways, including setting up electric barriers in rivers flowing into Lake of Michigan, and injecting carbon dioxide into the rivers, but all with limited effect. Finally, eating them becomes the most viable way, which can help start a new market while remove some of the fish in the river.
Wang Changzheng and his assistants from the College of Agriculture of Kentucky State University visited the Two Rivers Fisheries regularly to study how to process Asian carp into products that more consumers would like to have.
Compared with ordinary carp, Asian carp is higher in terms of nutrition and tastes better. Moreover, Asian carp has high content of unsaturated fatty acid. "What we are doing is to process it into popular products by resorting to certain food processing methods." aid Wang, whose work has been funded by the Kentucky State University as well as the U.S. Agriculture Department.
The Kentucky Department of Wildlife and Fish now has a big program helping the commercial fishermen to access some areas to take out Asian carp from the Mississippi. And the Two Rivers Fisheries is the closest one for a lot of fishermen to come over with their fish. Workers at the plant start working early in the morning and only call it a day after processing all fish received. But they have no complaints.
Photo taken on Oct. 30, 2017 shows workers of Two Rivers Fisheries are processing Asian carpe at the workshop in Kentucky, the United States. (Xinhua/Liu Yifang)
Jim Burns is the supervisor in the process room, and has worked here for three years. He told Xinhua that he loves what he is doing. "I think that we all have a great affection for each other (here)."
Jeff Smith, as operations manager of the plant, has been involved in every aspect of the business from the fishermen all the way to the customer. "We've got an excellent team here, Ms. Angie being the president and owner of the company, the other lady that works here in the office, we get along great," he told Xinhua.
Yu often cooks Chinese food for the workers, and would give out red envelopes with cash bonus sealed inside on traditional Chinese holidays. "We are a family, we work together to clean this water system, to create jobs, and to contribute to our community," Yu said, adding that fish is a low-end product and fish processing yields low profit. "We need to be deeply rooted in the neighborhoods and earn the respect of local residents before we can keep the business moving."
Buttler earned more than 46,000 dollars in 2016. "It is a big difference in income," he told Xinhua, adding he probably won't retire and would like to hand down the business to his grandchildren and keep it going. "It's all good when you get somebody you can depend on to get your check and take your fish."
"It's been good. I wouldn't trade it for the world," Buttler said.