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Plant Turns Asian Carp Into Fillets, Fertilizer

Asian Carp

In concentrated numbers, the leaping Asian carp pose significant danger to boaters navigating the open rivers. But from a purely ecological standpoint, the non-native carp feed primarily on plankton and bacteria, collapsing the food chain. (Credit: CBS)

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LASALLE, Ill. (CBS) — Workers along the Illinois River have found a new use for the invasive Asian carp.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports, the hope is to reduce the population of Asian carp threatening the Great Lakes, as workers hunt the invasive fish to turn into organic fertilizer, fillets and other commercial products.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports

State fish biologist Ken Clodfelter told a group of fishermen in north central Illinois that he watched workers catch 65,000 pounds of Asian carp in two days, the LaSalle News-Tribune reported over the weekend.

Workers loaded the carp into air-conditioned trailers to be taken to Schafer Fisheries in Thomson, Ill., which processes an estimated 30 million pounds of carp every year.

Mike Schafer, president of Schafer Fisheries, said his $10-million-a-year business focuses on turning carp into fillets sold in 16 countries. The company will soon expand to carp patties, fish sticks, nuggets, hot dogs, and jerky, he said. Some of that could be used to feed the hungry through a state food bank, he said.

The scraps from that process go into a liquid fertilizer that can be used on a variety of crops, he said.

“There’s no other fish like it,” he said.

Schaefer has plants in Iowa, Kentucky and Wisconsin and said his company doesn’t receive any government funding.

The overseas market for carp is promising, and companies will have to new build new processing plants to keep up with demand, Clodfelter said.

“The market is going to have to be expanded,” he said. “The market and the price are not there now.”

The Asian carp was originally imported to cleanse ponds in the South. But the reviled fish later made it into Mississippi River waterways and have traveled north.

The fish can starve other species by consuming their food.

Concerns have mounted in recent years that the fish might make their way into the Great Lakes via the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which connects Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River basin.

Following an unsuccessful lawsuit, attorneys general from six states – Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania – issued a letter asking colleagues along the Mississippi River to encourage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Currently, electronic barriers are in place on the Sanitary and Ship Canal to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

So far, although Asian carp DNA has been found in Lake Michigan, only one actual Asian carp has been found on the lake side of the electronic barriers to date, in Lake Calumet.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)