What one Illinois plant is doing about the Asian Carp invasion may surprise you
The state is getting more help from the private sector in battling the still out-of-control invasion of Asian carp in Illinois waterways. As WGN’s Nancy Loo reports in tonight’s Cover Story, a new plant near St. Louis aims to get rid of the fish faster, and is churning out products people want.
Work starts early at the American Heartland Fish Plant in Grafton; a rural town north of St. Louis on the Mississippi River. This innovative business opened just a few months ago, and is already processing about 60-thousand pounds of Asian carp every day. Gray Magee is the Chief Executive Officer. “We take the whole fish in, we don’t care what size, we do the whole fish. And we put it into a freezer if we need to. Otherwise, we take it right into our machine. We run it through a conveyor system into a pre-breaker. A pre-breaker breaks it up into smaller sizes then goes through a grinder which grinds it into what appears to be a wet hamburger meal type of thing.” This patented rendering process then dehydrates that pulverized fish. And the oil is pressed out from the byproduct. In just 12 minutes, the end result is a high quality fish oil, and a protein rich fish meal that Magee says is a perfect additive for animal feed. This protein will run from 62-67% and that’s much higher than soy meal or corn meal or any other meal.”
Magee believes non-human consumption is the easier and faster way to get rid of Asian carp. But, to the North in Thomson, Illinois, Schafer Fisheries remains focused on products for people, marketing items like ground carp and carp hot dogs. Many consumers in China and other world markets are enjoying Schafer’s exports. But, frozen fish is not as desirable to Asians. And, high shipping costs cut into profits. Mike Schafer is the President of Schafer Fisheries “We tried to get this fish placed on a Title 3 food source for humanitarian food aid programs worldwide. There’s a lot of ways we can utilize this fish, create a lot of jobs in this country, and help control a species that is going rampant right now.” The state still hopes more Americans can be lured into eating Asian carp. Kevin Irons, who heads the Asian carp program for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, says with well over a billion infesting Illinois waterways, there’s certainly plenty to go around. “Really, it’s a multiple strategy of making meal and oil. But, also the value of human food and good and delicious human food with these other uses.”
Irons was part of an Illinois scientific team that recently traveled to China. He believes they will be great partners in helping us solve our Asian carp problems. And, so many Chinese are adopting Western ways that the frozen fish problem is not insurmountable. “I’m not saying that market will never happen. I’m just saying it’s gonna be slow,” says Grafton plant President Gray McGee. Back at American Heartland, there is steady demand for their fish meal and fish oil. The plant relies on local fishermen who are paid about 12-cents a pound for their catches. Magee says the plant could easily handle much more. “Millions and millions of pounds. Our pro forma is based on about 16-million pounds a year. But that’s on one shift. If we doubled that shift, we’d probably get up to about 26-million pounds.” The state admits total eradication may be impossible. “We’ve got to get rid of these fish right now. And this seems to be the largest, most economical, and quickest way to get rid of that Asian carp and invasive Asian carp species.” In Grafton, Illinois, Nancy Loo, WGN News.
American Heartland hopes to open other plants in the Midwest to help other states also fighting the Asian carp problem. If you’d like more information or would like to share this story, got to WGNTV.com.
Producer Pam Grimes and Photojournalists Nelson Howard and Steve Scheuer contributed to this report.