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Why Not Send Invasive Asian Carp in US Back to Asia?

14 April 2014

US - When it comes to fish, not many Americans have much insight or appetite for Asian carp, the invasive species that is wreaking havoc in the US heartland's waterways. Some fisheries are taking that as their cue to go looking for customers elsewhere. Angie Yu had a bright idea: Why not send the oily freshwater fish back to Asia?

"The Chinese market needs wild fish from cleaner water badly now, and the US wants to get rid of the carp at the same time," said Yu, president of Two Rivers Fisheries in Wickliffe, Kentucky. "It's a win-win situation for both countries, and so far there are no hang-ups."

Asian carp have a negative reputation among Americans, according to Yu, but she said Two Rivers is trying to educate people about the species.

"People think Asian carp are dirty because they eat grass and dirt, which is not true," Yu said. "Another reason is they think it's too bony. Two Rivers is trying to educate people, and help change the bad impression of Asian carp."

Yu said she first read about Asian carp in 2010, when the species was threatening to invade the Great Lakes. Her company, Two Rivers, is the only Asian carp processing plant in Kentucky.

Two Rivers has shipped over a half-million pounds of frozen Asian carp to China since the company began its operations in July 2012, according to a January report by The Wall Street Journal.

But the growing carp population poses a threat to aquatic ecosystem throughout the country because of the species' rate of reproduction and the resulting stress it puts on the food chain.

The common carp has origins that date back as far as 3,500 BC. However, carp farming took off in the 1960s when scientists discovered the key to supporting the spawning of Asian carp.

Several species of the fish were shipped to the US in the 1960s and 1970s to help control aquaculture operations, but the fish migrated to other areas.

Asian carp made national headlines in 2010, when federal and state officials worked to track the fish in Illinois and the carp threatened to reach the Great Lakes via the Chicago River.

A survey of seven fishmongers in Chinatown on Wednesday yielded little positive feedback on the carp.

"It's not good fish," said an employee at a fish market on Mott Street, requesting anonymity.

A pedestrian outside of the same market on Mott Street said he would not eat carp based on his first impression. "I don't know if I'd eat buffalo carp to be honest, there's just not a lot of meat on them," he said.

But Yu said all it takes is a few bites for skeptics of Asian carp to turn into believers. "They are good fish, definitely not 'junk fish', but it will take time for local people to learn how to cook them," she said.

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