From “Asian carp” to “copi”, an ugly fish gets a makeover

The invasive species of fish known as Asian carp is now going through “copi,” in a bid to get more of them out of Midwestern waterways and onto the dinner table.

Asian carp, the invasive fish species that since the 1990s have thrived in Midwestern waterways and ousted native populations, has a new name: copi.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a rebranding effort and landed on the name “copi”, to reflect the abundant amount of fish that live in the rivers and streams of the Midwest.

The aim is to inspire restaurants, chefs, fish markets and fish consumers to buy, cook and eat what used to be called Asian carp and ultimately get more out of it. water and integrating them into food menus. This isn’t the first time a species of fish has changed its name: Chilean seabass was once known as Patagonian toothfish, and orange roughy was once called slimefish.

“In the Illinois River, up to 70 percent of the biomass — or fish weight — is Asian carp,” said Kevin Irons of Illinois DNR. This crowds out native fish species, he said, creating more competition for food sources like phytoplankton.

The goal is to prevent fish from entering the Great Lakes, where they could disrupt the lake’s ecosystem and head to other estuaries further upstream. Currently, Illinois has electrical barriers and targeted suppression efforts in place to prevent this spread.

But the fish’s reach extends far beyond Illinois, Irons said, including throughout the Mississippi Basin and the central and southern United States.

Asian carp were first introduced to the region to help clean up waterways which in the 1970s suffered from intense algal blooms. But some fish escaped containment, eventually establishing a self-sustaining population.

“This is the largest and most impactful initiative the IDNR, or any environmental organization, has ever instituted in the Midwest to control carp,” Irons said.

The “copi” marketing campaign targets restaurants and markets as well as fish consumers with the aim of creating a food market for fish. Some Chicago-area restaurants are already on board, touting dishes like copi burgers and copi po’ boys.

“I think one of the best things is that it’s extremely versatile,” said Brian Jupiter, a Chicago-based chef. “You can create all these different types of dishes, but also use spices that you really like, because the flavor of the fish itself won’t overpower anything.”

Jupiter said the fish has a clean flavor profile, but also has such a bony structure that deboning can be difficult. He said his favorite thing to do is copi burgers and he also uses copi as a binder in his crab cakes.

“Copi” burgers are just one way to cook fish, according to Chicago-based chef Brian Jupiter. Alex Garcia/Provided by Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Ultimately, the copi marketing team hopes the new name will gain FDA approval. One of the requirements for agency approval is widespread use of the new name, according to the team. So for now, both names – copi and carp – will appear on packaged products.

Some environmental groups have Express disappointment that the department is spending $600,000 on rebranding rather than restoring the health of the rivers.

“Illinois DNR needs to focus on restoring habitat in and along rivers and reducing pollution loads rather than guessing at public food preferences,” Robert Hirschfeld wrote in a blog post for the environmental group Prairie Rivers Network.

Some states, including Missouri, have chose to withdraw of the new name. Others, however, see it as a good starting point, including a longtime carp researcher Joe Parkos with the Illinois Natural History Survey.

“We need to eliminate as many of these fish as possible, so you might want to consider this tool in the toolbox,” Parkos said.

Follow Dana on Twitter: @DanaHCronin This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues. Follow Harvest on Twitter: @HarvestPM.

Copyright 2022 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

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