Kadner: Eat Asian carp and save $18 billion
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org January 13, 2014 7:54PM
A study released Thursday questions the costs and benefits of some options offered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for blocking invasive species such as Asian carp from the Great Lakes. | File photo
Updated: February 15, 2014 6:23AM
Every time I hear about some grand government scheme to keep the Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes, I keep thinking of two words, “Eat them!”
Humans are the greatest predators in the history of the world.
We’ve eliminated all sorts of animal species without really trying. Yet, when it comes to the Asian carp, the obvious seems to get overlooked.
In case you don’t understand what happened, these carp were imported from Southeast Asia to the southern U.S. to help aquaculture and wastewater treatment facilities keep retention ponds clean. Asian carp love to eat plankton, algae and other microscopic organisms.
According to multiple websites I visited, these fish are not really carp and are not bottom feeders, which carp are. The fish tend to eat stuff off the surface of the water, which makes them one of the safest fishes to eat because their mercury levels are very low.
But back to how the Asian carp became a problem.
Flooding allowed the fish to escape into the Mississippi River system and migrate into the Missouri and Illinois rivers. The Illinois River is connected to the Great Lakes by a man-made waterway we know as the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
It used to be known as the Chicago Drainage Canal because it was created to drain sewage out of Lake Michigan and reverse the flow of the Chicago River. The sewage carried by the Sanitary and Ship Canal now drains into the Des Plaines River.
The reversal of the Chicago River flow is considered one of the greatest engineering feats in history.
But now that thousands of Asian carp have populated the Illinois River, the fear is that they will swim through the Sanitary and Ship Canal into Lake Michigan. Because they breed faster than rabbits, they could eventually consume much of the algae and plankton in the lake, killing off most other fish and severely damaging the lake’s ecosystem.
It should be pointed out that not a single Asian carp has been found in Lake Michigan, although its DNA has been detected in water samples. That could simply mean that birds dropped some dead fish in the lake, but there are those who believe that carp infestation is inevitable.
The Chicago Area Waterway System is the only known continuous connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basins and poses the greatest potential risk for the transfer of the carp. So electric barriers have been located near Romeoville in the Sanitary and Ship Canal to try to prevent the carp from reaching the lake.
A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said only one Asian carp has been found north of those barriers.
Still, the fear is so great that an Asian carp invasion is coming that the Army Corps of Engineers spent years studying ways to stop them. The Corps recently released a 200-plus page study suggesting eight different ways to stop the Asian carp.
Some of those plans would cost up to $18 billion, including one proposal to reverse the course of the Sanitary and Ship Canal with a series of dams. That project would take about 25 years.
Charles Derringer, an environmental activist from Chicago Heights, telephoned me years ago with what sounded like a solution too simple to be true.
Asians love to eat Asian carp, he told me. There are millions of hungry people in the world. There are people here in the U.S. in need of food.
Start an entire industry to fish for Asian carp, process them and sell or give them away, Derringer said.
Illinois actually launched such a program using federal funds for the restoration of the Great Lakes. Called “Target Hunger Now,” the natural resources department is paying fishermen, who have removed roughly 2 million pounds of Asian carp from Chicago waterways since 2010.
The state also has paid food purveyors at Taste of Chicago and, more recent, the Illinois State Fair to prepare the carp for public consumption.
“We wanted to educate people and show them that Asian carp tastes better than they ever thought it would,” said Chris McCloud, a spokesman for the Illinois DNR.
Most recent, the fish were turned into hot dogs, “actually corn dogs because they are such a popular food item at the state fair,” McCloud said. “Everywhere people have eaten the fish they’ve been pleasantly surprised. People like Asian carp.”
The biggest problem, he said, is that Asian carp are a bony fish not easy to fillet. And Americans traditionally don’t like bony fish.
But there are ways, through processing, that the bones can be removed, although that process can be costly.
I am no expert on business or the environment, but here’s what I know.
The booming Asian carp population is considered to be a potentially serious problem.
People are in need of jobs. People are in need of food.
So you find a way of using the fish to feed people.
Renaming the fish has been suggested by some to make it more attractive to consumers. Orange Roughy, according to numerous stories, once was called “slime fish.”
Before 1975, there virtually was no Orange Roughy production. Then the name was changed, fishermen began trawling the depths of the ocean to harvest them and now some folks say they should be placed on the endangered species list.
The Chilean sea bass, another popular restaurant fish, isn’t a bass at all. It was originally called the Patagonian toothfish and “looks like a snow-covered block of iceberg,” according to one description.
It became Chilean sea bass and soared in popularity.
Instead of spending millions of dollars on electric barriers, reversing the course of waterways and conducting more studies, I have a simple solution the nation should try.
Eat the fish.