Illinois hunting and fishing

Asian carp wait to be unloaded at Big River Fish in Pearl. Photo by Chris Young.

Carp business really jumping

November 28, 2011 at 03:51 PM

PEARL — The Asian carp business is really jumping in Pearl, and it’s about to get even busier.

“We are running at full capacity and a little bit more so for the space we have,” said Lisa McKee, CEO of Big River Fish Corp. “It’s crazy.”

Pearl is along the Illinois River in southeastern Pike County, about 70 miles southwest of Springfield.

The background

In July 2010, Gov. Pat Quinn announced a $2 million grant to help Big River Fish expand after it signed a contract to send 30 million pounds of Asian carp to China.

Ironically, China is where the invasive fish originated.

Commercial fishing is considered the most practical tool available for controlling numbers of Asian bighead and silver carp that have reproduced exponentially in recent years.

“As I said before, if you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em,” Quinn joked when he announced the original agreement last year.

Big River Fish was planning to expand its operation by moving into the former purple martin birdhouse factory in Griggsville by early 2011.

But the company hit a snag.

“We couldn’t get clear title to the building,” McKee said. “We sure tried. We tried on two or three different buildings.”

Finally, Big River Fish settled on a 10,000-square-foot building not far from the birdhouse factory.

“We were fortunate that we are able to purchase it,” she said.

What’s next

McKee and owner Rick Smith welcome the new space.

Right now, they have to service both their new customer, Beijing Zhuochen Animal Husbandry Co. Ltd. of China, and their regular fresh-fish customers through the limited capacity of the present building.

“Rick is in a whirlwind trying to get new equipment in the new building,” McKee said. “I’d like to say we are going to be up and running at the new place by January, but that only gives us 30 days.”

The existing facility can hold only 40,000 pounds of frozen fish — about one shipping container — at a time.

“Now we are shipping four containers a week,” McKee said. “Not all are going to China, because I still have previous customers to take care of.”

Thirty million pounds of Asian carp divided by 40,000 pounds per container comes out to 750 containers.

“That’s why we need the new facility, so we can strictly process China orders in it,” she said. “We’re not very far into (that 30 million pounds) at this time.”

McKee said the new property needs a drainage system to handle fish processing.

There also are plans to build on to the existing structure.

“When you are going to add on a processing center,” she said, “it all revolves around time and money.”

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.