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Rethinking Asian Carp

In 17th century New England, it was given to the poor, prisoners, and indentured servants. The thought of eating it was so repulsive that even the indentured servants turned it down. The early colonists used the lobsters more for fertilizer than an enticing meal. Europeans historically liked eating lobster, but the early Americans colonists did not (“Coming to Grips”). Who decided this creature was not only edible, but a delicacy? The taste seemed to grow on people, and through time lobster was not considered such a repulsive option. During World War II lobster was considered a delicacy.

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It filled the demand for food that was rich in protein, since there was meat rationing during the war. Profits dramatically increased for lobster fisherman, and a whole new industry emerged along the Eastern Seaboard (Gulf of Maine). Presently, there’s another species that is not only thought of as less desirable, but actually feared. This is the Asian carp. Asian carp were introduced to the ponds of the Southern United States during the mid 1970’s. This was done to alleviate the problem of the algae that was building up. There are four main species of Asian carp. These include Bighead, Black, Silver, and Grass carp.

As a result of flooding, the Asian carp escaped from the ponds and established themselves in the Mississippi River (“Asian Carp Fact Sheet”). According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan is extremely concerned that the Asian carp will find their way into the Great Lakes. Asian carp are able to reach eighty to one hundred pounds, and they can eat forty percent of their body weight in food every day. Asian carp feed on plankton, which is a source of food for our native fish. Experts speculate that the carp could disrupt the food chain in the Great Lakes and alter our ecosystem (“DNRE”).

Anthropologist Hugh Raffles offers a different viewpoint. He argues that humans ignore how migration is an essential feature of the evolutionary process. Trying to restore ecosystems by eliminating new inhabitants most often fail, and do more harm than good. He uses the example of the honeybee being brought to the United States in the 1600’s, and eventually becoming part of our agriculture system (“Mother Nature’s”). Jerry Rasmussen is a former United States Fish and Wildlife biologist. He believes that there is no question that the Asian carp can, and will, eventually enter into the Great Lakes.

Duane Chapman, a United States Geological Survey scientist in Missouri and a leading expert on the fish says, “It’s quite possible they may not reach huge densities in the Great Lakes. ” He attributes this to water temperatures and our seasons. In Lake Erie, Huron, and Michigan they may be able to grow for only six months out of the year, and in very chilly Lake Superior only two months out of the year. When water temperatures drop below 59 degrees the fish lose weight and it is hard for them to feed (Lam). Many fisheries in Iowa, Illinois, and the South do not see this as a threat.

They are turning the threat into profit. They are turning lemons into lemonade. Schafer Fisheries in Illinois is turning Asian carp into jerky, hot dogs, taco meat, and all other kinds of palatable products (Lepeska). Instead of fearing the invasion of the Asian carp, the Great Lakes region should welcome the idea, due to the fact that they can be turned into a lucrative commodity, and couldn’t Michigan use the revenue? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the year 2000 the number of private sector jobs in Michigan was 3, 996,000. In the year 2009 that number dropped to 3,213,000.

This is a drop of 19. 6%. 24% of all private sector job losses during this period occurred in Michigan (Little). Michigan could use a boost, and the processing of Asian carp could be one of those boosts. Other states are using innovative ideas to market the Asian carp, not to mention making huge profits along the way. Marie Antoinette once said, “Let them eat cake. ” Michigan should say, “Let them eat carp. ” With an aggressive marketing campaign, and a name change, Asian carp could be what’s for dinner tonight. It could open the door for entrepreneurs.

Let’s think for a minute about the cost of trying to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. According to Chicago news station WGN, there would be a 4. 7 billion dollar economic blow to the Great Lakes region over the next twenty years if the shipping locks were to close, which former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox strongly advocated (“Price Tag”). The electric barrier, which is used to keep the carp from entering the Great Lakes region, cost 9. 1 million dollars. Seventy five percent of this amount was funded by federal funds, which meant taxpayers footed the bill for it.

It costs 500,000 dollars a year to operate the electric fence, which is also funded by taxpayers (“Electric Barrier”). Conrad Drabrowski, an aquaculturist at Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources stresses, “Asian carp pose no danger to the Great Lakes. ” He also claims that the electric barriers, which are so costly, will not stop the fish from entering Lake Michigan. In June of 2010, a Bighead carp was caught in Lake Michigan, which proves that the barriers are failing (“OSU Prof”).

Instead, this money could be spent on building processing plants and marketing strategies in order to turn Asian carp into a cash cow, like our neighboring states are doing. Schafer Fisheries is located in Illinois. In 2006 they shipped two million pounds of Asian carp to places as far away as Indonesia and Turkey, where it is considered a delicacy. In 2010 they shipped a whopping twenty million pounds. They market the fish to many people right here in the U. S. They are one of many companies now that have turned the fish into a big profit. They sell Asian carp filets, jerky, taco meat, and not to mention hot dogs.

Their business is booming. Jim Garvey, director of the Fisheries and Illinois aquaculture Center at Southern Illinois University, runs a three million dollar state program to increase the carp harvest and develop commercial markets. He stresses, “Asian carp, though a hard sell for human appetites in the United States, are among the most widely consumed fish in the world. ” “We can bring the appeal here” (Lepeska). I myself called Schafer Fisheries in Thomson, Illinois. I was reluctant at first, but decided what did I have to lose? I ordered twenty sticks of Asian carp jerky.

I had it shipped to my house, and received it three days later. Total cost, with shipping, was twenty dollars. It came in a clear vacuum packed package. It looked like the regular beef jerky I was used to eating, but could I really force myself eat it? I was very apprehensive to taste it. I took a bite, and I was surprisingly pleased. It actually tasted good. I thought to myself that if I liked it, and I am one picky eater, other people are sure to enjoy it. I took a bag into my English 102 class. I gave it to ten people. All ten people ate a stick of the Asian carp jerky, and they all said it was pretty good.

This stuff can, and should be marketed. Asian carp were introduced to Poland over forty years ago to control algae and other unwanted life forms. They have populations of the carp in Europe that are over forty years old. Many have never even spawned. To date, Poland has not suffered any harmful consequences (“OSU Prof”). It’s time the Great Lakes region quit living in fear and starts taking advantage of different opportunities. So often in our society many things that appear foreign are considered a threat. We tend to put labels on things. We use the term “native” or “alien”.

If we are not accustomed to it, we tend to not want to accept it. Attitudes can be changed through persuasion, openness to new ideas, and gaining new experiences. Companies in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri are raking in big profits from the sale of Asian carp. These companies include Stoller Fisheries, Inland Processing, Big River Fish, and Shafer Fisheries. Michigan, on the other hand, is spending millions of dollars to prevent them. Daniel Little, a Michigan philosopher of social science, states that one out of four private sector jobs have been lost in Michigan. He calls this a one-state depression. He says there is a solution.

If we want to create 100,000 new jobs per year we would have to attract, or create, 50 new firms with 500 workers each (Little). The Asian carp industry could help contribute to this solution. Stoller Fisheries, of Spirit Lake, Iowa, has recently emerged and currently ships two million pounds of Asian carp. Owner, Larry Stoller, anticipates that number will increase by one million next year. Inland Processing in Grafton, Illinois is also starting up business. They are pitching the state of Illinois, and investors, on plans to build a plant that will process up to 15 million pounds of Asian carp a year (Lepeska).

New business, and the many jobs that go along with new business, is something Michigan needs so desperately. I personally called the sales manager, Steve McNidt, of Shafer Fisheries in Thomson, Illinois. He told me that there is really no way to eradicate the Asian carp, and they are finding many ways to use the fish productively. He said people in his part of the country are accepting the fish more and more. They have sold over twenty million pounds this year, and he expects to surpass that number next year. Schafer Fisheries distributes to more than thirteen different countries.

Mr. McNidt told me that they also ground the fish up and sell it to different Jewish markets throughout the country. Ground up carp is used to make Gefilte fish. Gefilte is made from a mixture of ground deboned fish, mostly carp, cooking onions, sunflower oil, salt, pepper, sugar, bread crumbs, and eggs. It is very popular in the Jewish community. Schafer Fisheries employs over 150 people, and they plan to add more staff in the near future (McNidt). The threat to the Great Lakes from the Asian carp is mainly speculation and prediction.

Fishermen and officials are worried that the Asian carp will have a negative effect on our walleye, perch, and bass populations. Ray Petering, of the Ohio Division of Wildlife wrote, “Asian carp have not wiped out other species in the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers” (“OSU Prof”). If they have not wiped out other species elsewhere, what makes one think that they will wreak havoc on the native species of the Great Lakes.

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