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New Demand for Asian Carp Could Help Our Waterways

Submitted by:  Backcountry Press Outdoor News 
Posted on: 06/29/18

Disclaimer:  The views expressed on this site are that of the authors and not necessarily that of TBC Press
Two Rivers Fisheries
Carp are fun to shoot with a bow; now they're also a hot commodity–for those who know how to market them. In Two Rivers Fisheries in Kentucky it’s morbidly satisfying to watch silver carp being fed to a band saw. Especially the sound. 

The same bug-eyed fish known for jumping into boats and ruining riverine ecosystems are loaded onto a conveyor belt, where the high-speed blade slices them in two behind the gill plate. 

The body flops onto the next belt, while the head drops into a bin below. Both parts of the fish are marketable; In fact, save for the blood and slime, there’s not much waste.
There’s mess associated with industrial fish processing, to be sure, but the fish on the racks could be on display in a fresh-seafood market. The room is refrigerated, and the just-cleaned fish are stacked on shelves. “These are ready to freeze and ship,”says Jim Burns, the process foreman. “Many of our customers want their fish whole.”

In the backwaters of western Kentucky, near the confluence of the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers, species like gar, drum, buffalo, and paddlefish were the targets for bowfishermen in this area. Today, they are the epicenter of the Asian carp epidemic.

Silver and bighead carp are filter feeders, meaning they eat the same plankton as the native baitfish.

The difference between a silver carp and a shad is that the carp will grow to weigh 5 pounds in a year and top out at 40. Females lay a million or more eggs per spawning cycle. Not only are they outcompeting native bait for food, but they’re also physically crowding out gamefish—bass, crappies, bream, catfish—from the available habitat.

Kentucky and Barkley lakes—reservoirs on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, respectively—have in the past been counted among the nation’s premier bass and crappie fisheries. But gamefish weights and numbers have been dwindling in the past few years, to the alarm of fisheries biologists, guides, and lifelong locals who’ve never known anything except world-class angling. Many believe carp are to blame.

Fishermen that have tried eating the carp have noted that, although bony, they taste just fine. Still, most fishermen slough them off the arrow and into a tub, where they’re bound for fertilizer. On just about any hot summer day or night, you’ll tire of drawing a bow before you run out of silver carp targets.

Bow fishermen know there’re not putting a dent in the numbers, but when they run into bass fishermen on the river, there’re always met with a thumbs-up, a smile, and “kill ’em all because they’ve made the fishing suck” encouragement.

The local attitude is: Fishermen want them gone. And when it comes to fish dinners, well, they’re carp, not crappies.

Fortunately, Angie Yu doesn’t see things that way. Yu was born in Heilongjiang Province, China, and later moved to Los ­Angeles. She was living in California working in the seafood import-export business when she heard about the South’s burgeoning carp problem, and so she traveled to Wickliffe, Ky., population 672, and spent her last dime investing in a processing facility called Two Rivers Fisheries, which opened in July 2012.

There aren’t many Asian carp processing facilities in the region—or anywhere in the U.S., for that matter. One in Grafton, Ill., that specialized in rendering fish oil and fish meal from carp was forced to shut down after residents complained of the smell.

But with Yu’s background in seafood exports, she saw an opportunity and the business has taken off. Now, she says, her biggest problem is getting enough of the carp under her processors’ knives to satisfy the overseas demand. 

Some fishermen think there’s a trick to cleaning them, where you can get out all the bones. There’s just not, Two Rivers Fisheries grind a lot of the fish, though, and the tiny bones are pulverized. That’s true for most commercially processed fish. Do you think the fillets for a fast-food sandwich come off the fish in perfect squares? It’s all ground. Silver carp is just as good as whitefish, tilapia, and the other stuff they’re using. It also has fewer calories per serving—and, of course, it’s much cheaper.

Much of the whole carp is exported, and in China, nobody gives a second thought to picking around the bones. In China, friends and family sit down together for a meal, with a bunch of different dishes. They pass them around, and you sample and try things. No one minds nibbling around a few little bones.

One of our big problems is getting enough fishermen. They take fish from up to five hours away. We have guys bringing in carp from Missouri and Tennessee. It’s hard work and requires some equipment up front. But we had a couple fishermen make $100,000 last year.

Seeing Green
With truckloads of carp being unloaded from commercial anglers, fishermen caked in slime—but that doesn’t bother them as they watch the scales. Silver carp pay 17 cents per pound, bigheads 18 cents, and grass carp 22 cents.

One of Two Rivers big problems is getting enough fishermen. They take fish from up to five hours away. They have guys bringing in carp from Missouri and Tennessee. It’s hard work and requires some equipment up front. But they had a couple fishermen make $100,000 last year.

There’s big money tied to the commercial harvest of invasive carp. And maybe there is no solution for ridding the waterways of these fish and restoring the recreational angling to what it once was. But Two Rivers Fisheries is the spearhead of the best management option Will Brantley (from Outdoor Life) has seen yet. Many recreational anglers still recoil at the idea of commercial fishing, but the spotlight bowfishermen in particular are putting on Asian carp is helping the cause. For whatever reason, folks with baitcasters and nets alike seem to identify with skewering carp on fiberglass arrows.

Many people can’t accept fish shot with a bow for food production, but Two Rivers is working on a fertilizer-production facility right now says operations manager Jeff Smith.  There’s money in fish fertilizer too—and we’ll be able to take fish from bowfishermen for that.

Certainly, normalizing carp as an eater fish in the States would be a huge step in getting more commercial fishermen to target Asian carp. Yu notes that many of her Chinese customers are enamored with the idea of shooting jumping carp with a bow and arrow too—to the point of requesting guided bowfishing trips when they visit the U.S.

With all of those pieces in place, surely the landscape of carp fishing is shifting in a new direction. Lord knows we have plenty of carp to meet the demand.


Images and Article courtesy of Will Brantley,

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New Demand for Asian Carp Could Help Our Waterways