Photo: Silver carp jumping in the Fox River. Although there are no accurate estimates of Asian carp populations in U.S. waters, there are believed to be millions. At times, they have totaled up to 90% of all fish populations on some backwaters of the Mississippi River.
Illinois has developed a nifty, new promotional tool in their effort to save the Great Lakes from one of the most invasive species present in Mississippi River Basin waters. They’ve rebranded the invaders and invited people to eat them.
After more than two years of consumer research and planning, “Copi” has been unveiled as new name for the extremely invasive Asian carp species—bigheads, silver, grass and black carp. The unwelcome invaders now appear on menus and in seafood grocery cases, and chefs are inviting people to dine on the rebranded fish.
The new name comes from the word “copious,” an accurate definition of the Asian carp presence. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources estimates 20 to 50 million pounds of Copi could be harvested from the Illinois River annually. Include all the waterways from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast, and that’s a lot of fish.
Copi is more appealing, aesthetically, than the species family name carp. The new name and brand were selected to address dietary misconceptions about the top-feeding fish, which has overrun too many Midwest waterways.
Enjoying the fish at a “restaurant or at home is one of the easiest things people can do to help protect our waterways and Lake Michigan,” said John Goss, former White House invasive carp adviser. “As home to the largest continuous link between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River system, Illinois has a unique responsibility in the battle to keep invasive carp out of the Great Lakes. I’m proud of Illinois, its partners and other states for rising to this challenge.”
And it is a challenge.
The four Asian carp species, native to Europe and Asia, have been nothing but trouble since they were introduced in the 1970s to aquaculture ponds and wastewater treatment facilities in the Southeast to help clear waters of weeds and parasites.
Extensive flooding allowed captive fish to escape into the Mississippi River basin where they quickly established breeding populations. Ever since, a collaboration of local, state and federal government groups have worked to prevent them from entering Lake Michigan, which would threaten a $7 billion-a-year commercial fishing industry and a $16 billion-a-year tourism industry in the Great Lakes.
In their journey up the Mississippi River and its tributaries, the fish have been found as far north as Minnesota and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. They are voracious feeders, causing serious damage to native fish populations by competing for food and space.
Silver carp, which can grow quite large, are known to jump out of water to escape threats, injuring boaters and skiers as well as damaging boats and equipment. They are also capable of jumping over barriers, including low dams. High water conditions create an open river situation. As Mississippi River dams open their gates, this allows invasive carp to move past what was a barrier.
Bighead and silver carp eat plankton, which native mussels and fish depend on. Grass carp consume plants and can drastically change river and shoreline vegetation, spawning and cover for native fish. Black carp eat snails and mussels, including native species that are already endangered and may endanger reintroduced populations.
The solution to eat the invaders and promote eating healthy fish that are called tasty, seems like a good tool in the fight to remove them.
Illinois officials plan to formally apply to change the name with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of 2022.
“Copi is a great name: Short, crisp and easy to say. What diner won’t be intrigued when they read Copi tacos or Copi burgers on a menu?” said Colleen Callahan, DNR director. “It’s a tasty fish that’s easy to work with in the kitchen and it plates beautifully. Every time we’ve offered samples during the Illinois State Fair, people have walked away floored by how delicious it is.”
Kevin Irons, the assistant fisheries chief who specializes in invasive species, explained why consistently using the name Copi is important.
“Among the requirements to win federal approval for a name change is widespread use of the name, which is another reason why (the announcement) is so important,” he said. “So there is one thing that everyone can do to help save the Great Lakes: Call the fish Copi.”
When sold in grocery stores, packaging will describe the fish as carp and Copi until federal regulators approve the name change. The state also has applied to register the trademark so that industry groups will be able to develop standards and ensure quality control.
A list of recommended recipes using Copi can be viewed at ChooseCopi.com. For a list of processors and restaurants making Copi available, click here.
– Resources: Illinois Department of Natural Resources, National Park Service, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior.