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Asian carp are estimated to make up 60 percent of all fish in the Illinois River, a number fishermen say is low. Photo by Chris Young.

Peoria processing facility suggested as a means to battle Asian carp

September 26, 2013 at 10:08 AM

Peoria Journal Star


PEORIA — Perhaps the private sector can succeed where the government has failed. That seemed to be the theme following a summit-type meeting on Asian carp held at the Peoria County Courthouse Wednesday morning.

Some 75 people crowded into the courthouse board room to hear a brief recap on the problem of the invasive species that now dominates the Illinois River and, more importantly, what it would take for the private sector to turn that problem into an economic opportunity.

John Hamann, rural economic development director for Peoria County, organized a group that included fishermen, distributors, government officials, researchers and even drew the Asian carp czar, himself, John Goss, who’s spent the last three years working to unite federal, state and regional efforts to combat the carp’s spread across American waterways.

The session was facilitated by members of the Maryland-based Vital Economy research team on behalf of Focus Forward Central Illinois, the newly-organized economic development group for the region.

Jim Haguewood of Vital Economy led the session, setting up an Asian carp value chain on brown paper that stretched across a wall at the front of the room.

One of the suggestions made to increase the amount of Asian carp currently being fished out of the river included establishing a processing facility in the Peoria area, making it easier and less costly for fishermen who now have to drive two hours to the nearest processor.

Schafer Fisheries in Thomson, near the Mississippi River, was one of the processing facilities represented at the meeting. Owner Michael Schafer said his company harvests 30 million pounds of fish a year, with Asian carp accounting for about 20 million pounds of it.

“Fishermen have to be able to make more money catching these fish. That’s how to get young people involved,” he said.

Schafer decried the fact that millions have been spent to eradicate the problem with most of it expended in the Chicago area to stop fish from entering the Great Lakes.

“None of this (government) money has trickled down to the private sector. If we’d had a (processing) plant in Peoria, we’d be a lot further down the road,” he said.

While fishermen in attendance called official estimates of the number of carp in the river low, James Garvey, director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Center at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, said his research would

Garvey, who’s been researching carp in the Illinois River since 2011, has declared that 60 percent of the fish in the river are Asian carp.

Whatever the numbers, the economic potential is there, said Haguewood. “There’s a $40 million opportunity that sits before us today,” he said.

While distributors spoke of the cost and complexity of shipping fish overseas, a large domestic market remains virtually untapped, noted some in attendance.
Garvey noted that carp has done well in taste tests and, unlike other seafood items, contains few contaminants.

Goss, whose titles include Asian Carp director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and chairman of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, said the group was on the right track.

“A key part of the strategy to slow down carp growth is commercial fishing. The problem is beyond the resources of federal, state and local government to attack. The best way is to go to a market-based system,” he said.

Goss said successful efforts in Peoria could stimulate a model to help communities all over the Midwest.

Former Peoria Mayor Bud Grieves suggested subsequent meetings involve bankers and stockbrokers to boost opportunities for investment.

Steve Tarter can be reached at 686-3260 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow his blog, Minding Business, on pjstar.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveTarter

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