Invasive carp are getting a marketing makeover

A campaign seeks to make Asian carp more appealing to U.S. consumers by renaming the fish as "copi."

You may have seen Chilean sea bass on the menu at a fancy restaurant. But the now-prized fish only landed on high-dollar menus after an enterprising fish wholesaler changed its name from the Patagonian toothfish and pitched it as a delicacy.

The State of Illinois is trying to do the same thing with Asian carp, an invasive fish that threatens ecosystems in the Mississippi River watershed. The state and partner organizations “kicked off a market-tested campaign Wednesday to rechristen as “copi” four species previously known collectively as Asian carp, hoping the new label will make them more attractive to U.S. consumers,” John Flesher reports for The Associated Press.

“The federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is funding the five-year, $600,000 project to rebrand the carp and make them widely available. More than two dozen distributors, processors, restaurants and retailers have signed on. Most are in Illinois, but some deliver to multiple states or nationwide,” Flesher writes.

The name comes from “copious.” State and federal officials have tried everything from fishing tournaments to bubbles and noisemakers to get invasive Asian carp out of U.S. waterways, but what to do with the captured fish has been an enduring problem. The fish show promise as pet food or fertilizer, and a processing plant in Western Kentucky exports carp to Asian audiences, where it’s a popular food.

It could be an easy and abundant food source in the U.S., too, if more people were willing to try them. Flesher reports, “Officials estimate up to 50 million pounds (22.7 million kilograms) could be netted annually in the Illinois River between the Mississippi and Lake Michigan. Even more are available from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast.”

The state will seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration, “which says ‘coined or fanciful’ fish labels can be used if not misleading or confusing,” Flesher notes. “Other regulatory agencies and scientific groups have their own policies and might not make the switch. The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and the American Fisheries Society have a committee that lists fish titles, including scientific names in Latin and long-accepted common names. The panel never adopted ‘Asian carp’ as an umbrella term for the invasive species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serviceplans to stick with ‘invasive carp’ and the four individual names, as its focus is on managing and controlling their spread.”

Invasive carp are getting a marketing makeover

The Rural Blog

The Rural Blog is a publication of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues based at the University of Kentucky.