Workers along the Illinois River are hunting for invasive fish to turn into organic fertilizer, fillets and other commercial products.
The hope is to reduce the population of Asian carp threatening the Great Lakes. Originally imported to cleanse ponds in the South, Asian carp made it into Mississippi River waterways and have traveled north. The voracious fish can starve other species by consuming their food.
State fish biologist Ken Clodfelter told a group of fishermen in north central Illinois that he watched workers catch 65,000 pounds of Asian carp in two days, the (LaSalle) News-Tribune reported Saturday. Workers loaded the carp into air-conditioned trailers to be taken to Schafer Fisheries in Thompson, which processes an estimated 30 million pounds of carp every year.
Fishermen worry that the carp could damage their $7-billion-a-year industry in the Great Lakes. An electric barrier along the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which connects the Mississippi River system and Lake Michigan, is intended to stop carp by delivering non-lethal shocks when they go too far.
Though no carp have been found in the Great Lakes, businessmen see an opportunity to turn a potential nightmare into a commercial gain.
Mike Schafer, president of Schafer Fisheries, said his $10-million-a-year business focuses on turning carp into fillets sold in 16 countries. The company will soon expand to carp patties, fish sticks, nuggets, hot dogs, and jerky, he said. Some of that could be used to feed the hungry through a state food bank, he said.
The scraps from that process go into a liquid fertilizer that can be used on a variety of crops, he said.
"There's no other fish like it," he said.
Schaefer has plants in Iowa, Kentucky and Wisconsin and said his company doesn't receive any government funding.
The overseas market for carp is promising, and companies will have to new build new processing plants to keep up with demand, Clodfelter said.
"The market is going to have to be expanded," he said. "The market and the price are not there now."