CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn hoped to spark a modern-day gold rush for fishermen on the Illinois River by signing an agreement Tuesday to ship as much as 30 million pounds of Asian carp a year to China, where the fish are a delicacy.
"If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em," Quinn said, launching the next phase of the state's effort to control and eradicate the invasive species before it reaches Lake Michigan.
Illinois will invest $2 million to upgrade the facilities at Big River Fisheries in Pearl and Pittsfield. The fish processing plants are among a handful in Illinois already shipping millions of pounds of Asian carp to China and other countries each year.
Quinn said the investment could mean 60 to 180 new jobs to those small riverside communities in addition to the larger goal of reducing the threat of Asian carp entering the Great Lakes by harvesting them by the millions.
"Not only will it get the Asian carp out of our waterways, it will provide jobs," said Rep. Debbie Halvorson, D-Ill., who was among the Illinois lawmakers, as well as local and Chinese business leaders, who joined Quinn at a news conference in Chicago. The goal, Halvorson said, was to "return Asian carp to where they rightfully belong."
Natives of China with no known predators in the U.S., Asian carp have left a trail of destruction on their 30-year march up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
In China, Asian carp are popular and highly coveted. Big River Fisheries is exploring a marketing campaign to sell "wild grown" Asian carp from Illinois' waters to upscale Chinese restaurants, the way premium beef is sold in the U.S., said Ross Harano, the company's director of international sales.
"Just like people pay a premium for Angus beef, we believe people will pay a premium for this," Harano said.