CHICAGO, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- The River Sun Group, a new company jointly launched by Chinese American-funded Two Rivers Fisheries, the American Fujian Business Association and the Mid-America Restaurant Association in Chicago recently, is set to promote the consumption of Asian carp in the United States.
In a Chinese restaurant in the southern suburbs of Chicago, the company hosted a fish feast on Monday, where fish egg roll, fish cake, steamed fish head with hot chili, fish ball with minced meat, deep fried whole fish with hot chili, fried fish with rice wine, deep fried fish, fish paste soup, fish hamburger, and fish dumpling made of Asian carp harvested in the United States were put on display on a long table.
The feast, a combination of both Chinese and Western style cuisines, attracted natural resources officials and experts from U.S. Midwest states of Kentucky and Illinois. The good taste of the fish dishes not only delighted the guests' palate, but also convinced them that turning the "notorious" fish into delicious food bodes well for the U.S. fight against the Asian carp plaguing the Mississippi River.
ASIAN CARP PROBLEM
"In Kentucky, we have them (Asia carp) in the Ohio River, pretty heavily up until Louisville," Ron Brooks, aquatic invasive species director of Fisheries Division under Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, told Xinhua in an interview. "Tourism is down considerably because of the jumping silver carp ... And we have put a lot of effort into this since 2011, trying to help the industry get going."
In 2018, commercial fishermen harvested more than six million pounds in the waters of Kentucky. "There are many, many more fish in the systems on the Mississippi River. You're talking about thousands of miles of streams and rivers and they're all full of Asian carp. So the number is astronomical."
"They're not gonna harvest them in two years. There's never going to be a time in my lifetime," Brooks stressed.
Ted Penesis, director of Community Outreach under Illinois Department of Natural Resources, echoed Brooks' words. "Actually throughout the United States, it's taking over our rivers and the ecology of our rivers. We're losing sport fishing. Recreational opportunities are being decreased because of that."
Kevin S. Irons, an aquaculture program manager of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, has been studying large river ecology and other fisheries for about 30 years, and in the past 20 years, Asian carp have been his concern.
"The Asian carp are a significant problem for us. It's a challenge," he told Xinhua. As an invasive species, Asian carp have taken resources from local natural resources, and competed with other fish. "We want to prevent their movement into new places like the great lakes."
In the 1970s, the United States imported Asian carp to resolve the problem of plankton. In early 1990s, the Asian carp entered the Mississippi River and since then they have expanded and multiplied rapidly, posing a serious threat to local ecological environment.
COMMERCIALIZED CONSUMPTION OF ASIAN CARP
Both Kentucky and Illinois have adopted many measures to fight against the rapid reproduction of Asian carp.
Kentucky has established a fish center to ensure that commercial fishermen always have a place to sell fish and get a decent price for those fish. The state also has a program that offers subsidies ranging from 5 cents to 10 cents a pound.
"We've created regulations and programs that will entice an Asian carp fishermen to come to Kentucky," Brooks told Xinhua. Besides fishermen in Kentucky, there are also fishermen coming from other states to work in Kentucky.
"We're doing a lot of tests on more efficient methods also," Brooks added.
Besides offering subsidies for people to get Asian carp out of the water, Illinois has teamed with the Army Corps of Engineers in building three electric barriers about 35 miles from Lake Michigan that fish cannot swim through, as well as locks and dams that fish cannot swim through.
"What we need to do is we need to rebalance our rivers, and one way to do that is we need to get the Asian carp out," said Irons. "Harvest is the key strategy for removing and reducing the population of carp."
To this end, "we need to have people eat them. We're going to try to eat our way out of this problem and try to get markets to buy into Asian carp," Irons noted.
ASIAN CARP REBRANDING
Being an aquaculture expert, Irons said Asian carp are very delicious. "It's healthy and they have very few contaminants. It's a nice white, flaky meat, and they are delicious in a traditional style served with peppers and spices."
But there are hurdles to human consumption of Asian carp on the U.S. market. "The biggest problem is that the name "carp," it has a negative connotation, especially for the American consumers," Penesis said frankly.
Another hurdle is the fish bone. "That's always been the bones," Brooks said. "If we can get over those two hurdles, I think the industry is going to take off."
Penesis suggested rebranding the name card of carp. "It's coming (from) clean rivers, high in Omega fats, vitamin levels. All of that is good and we need to do a better job of making sure that the public knows that this is something that is not only healthy for you, but it's very tasty too."
Penesis went further by suggesting jumpstarting the consumption of carp at public universities in Illinois, where there is a large Asian community.
"To start this off, start off slow and then build it up, so that we could get to that point where we're going to be successful," he said.
The company is focusing on domestic market (U.S. market) with these domestic products. "It's a step that I've always thought that we needed in order for this industry to be successful. And so this is a great step in the right direction," Brooks said.
Penesis saw huge market potential in U.S. consumption of Asian carp.