Mississippi Digital News

Invasive fish gets a makeover in the US to encourage sales


On Wednesday, June 22nd, as the US Midwest rivers are flooded with a family of invasive fish from Asia, the state of Illinois is unveiling a market-tested rebranding campaign to make the fish appealing to consumers.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources hired a marketing firm to find a new name for the four species previously known collectively as Asian carp. And “copi”, a short for “copious,” is the winner.

Imported from Asia in the 1960s-70s to gobble algae from Deep South sewage lagoons and fish farms, these fish escaped into the Mississippi River. They have infested most of the river and many tributaries in the US heartland and are threatening the Great Lakes, crowding out native species like bass and crappie.

Regulators have spent more than $600 million to keep them from the Great Lakes and waters such as Lake Barkley on the Kentucky-Tennessee line.

Officials estimate up to 50 million pounds (22.7 million kilograms) of invasive carps could be netted annually in the Illinois River, a link between the Mississippi and Lake Michigan. Even more are available between the Midwest and the Gulf Coast. They say the fight to contain them would get a boost if more people would eat them.

In the US, carp are known primarily as muddy-tasting bottom feeders. But the four targeted species live higher in the water column, feeding on algae, wetland plants and – in the case of black carp – mussels and snails. Officials say they are high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury and other contaminants.

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Chefs, distributors, and others in the food industry say it’s a tasty, healthy fish.

“I love this name, because it’s fun and light, which is exactly how this fish tastes,” said Brian Jupiter, a Chicago chef who plans to offer a copi po’ boy sandwich at his Ina Mae Tavern. He says the fish is adaptable to a variety of cuisines including Cajun, Asian and Latin.

Also, he said that the new market name could stick with almost every type of food, like copi-bugers, which would be more appealing to gourmands than invasive carp burgers. Another example is “slimehead,” which became a hit with consumers after its market moniker was switched to “orange roughy.”

The next step: Seeking approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration, which says “coined or fanciful” fish labels can be used if they are not misleading or confusing.

But outside the business world, the US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to stick with “invasive carp” and the four individual specie names, as its focus is on managing and controlling their spread. The Invasive Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, which involves numerous federal, state, local, and Canadian provincial agencies, will do likewise.

ETB NEWS: Yi Pan, Meixing Ren Contributed to this article.


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