In lakes and waterways of the American Midwest, invasive carp has been a constant nuisance. Catching, cooking, and eating the fish is one of the many ways to fight the species’ invasion. Unfortunately, many people and diners wouldn’t be interested when they hear carp.
As a way to make carp more favorable to people, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and other partners has given the fish a rebrand. They’ve given the invasive fish a new name, “copi,” a rather sophisticated-sounding name that may make people order the fish at restaurants or cook it at home.
Just a little bit of background, there are four species of carp which have been classified as invasive according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Collectively, they’re called Asian carp because they’re endemic to East Asia.
The common carp came to North America earlier, in the mid-1800s. The other four carp species were introduced to the US in the 60s and 70s to combat algae in wastewater treatment plants and aquaculture ponds, while also serving as a source of food.
Unfortunately, the fish “managed to migrate” into the Mississippi River and since then it’s caused great disturbance. Carp are known to be fierce eaters and they reproduce just as fiercely. So, they crowd out native fish species and outcompete them for food.
Despite being introduced to eat algae, carp in big numbers are thought to lower water quality, harming underwater ecosystems and may threaten other native species like freshwater mussels.
There have been efforts to contain the fish population, which have cost a lot of money. Because if carp escaped into Lake Michigan, the fish could threaten the commercial fishing and tourism industries, which when combined have contributed billions of dollars to the economy.
Officials have tried controlling the fish by putting physical barriers, giving poisons, and introducing predators. They have long tried to make carp attractive to the US public, but they hadn’t had much luck, hence the rebranding attempt.
Kevin Irons, assistant fisheries chief for the Illinois Department of Natural Resource, stated that carp sounded so harsh, and with its reputation, people wouldn’t try it. “But it’s healthy, clean and it really tastes pretty darn good.”
Copi comes from the word “copious,” which is the nature of this fish in the American Midwest, and I personally think the name is ingenious—it sounds like a whole another type of fish and it sounds a little expensive or classy. The name was thought up by Span, a Chicago-based communications firm—kudos to them.
“Copi is a great name: Short, crisp and easy to say. What diner won’t be intrigued when they read copi tacos or copi burgers on a menu?” Colleen Callahan, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The rebranding project involves more than 30 restaurants, distributors, processors and retailers from across Illinois, Tennessee, Arizona, and Washington D.C., which aims to get more copi in people’s lives.
It is a project funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a group of federal agencies working to protect the Great Lakes, the largest system of fresh surface water in the world.
According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, fishermen could annually harvest from 20 to 50 million pounds of copi from the Illinois River. They could also harvest a lot more in other waterways.
Looking at those numbers, I can see why the officials are eager to make more people eat the fish.
Does carp taste any different from other fish?
Some of you who know about this rebrand may still be reluctant to eat the fish, especially knowing that it’s only the name that changed.
Well, let me tell you that as a regular consumer of copi, they’re not bad at all. We can turn them into a fish soup, deep fry them (my personal favorite way of eating the fish) or cook them in any way we want; as long as you season them well, they taste great.
Copi has a mild flavor, and it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids. Since they eat vegetation and plankton, they contain very little mercury or lead, if any. It is a little hard for chefs to cook them as filets, as the fish have intramuscular bones; but they’re great to be made into fish patties or chopped for sandwiches.
“Copi is more savory than tilapia, cleaner tasting than catfish and firmer than cod. It’s the perfect canvas for creativity—pan fried, steamed, broiled, baked, roasted or grilled. Copi can be ground for burgers, fish cakes, dumplings and tacos,” said Brian Jupiter, chef and owner of Chicago’s Ina Mae Tavern, one of the restaurants taking part in the project.
There are many recipes that the project gives on its website, including copi fresh fish tacos, copi smoked fish dip, and copi firehouse fish burger.
The project hopes that more people will get familiar with copi because they’re planning to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to officially change the name. When more people use the word copi, it could help the project get the FDA’s approval.
Oh, and by the way, if you’ve already known about copi and you want to do your part by consuming them but don’t know how, you can also check out this site.
Other invasive species that you can consume
Now, there are some who say that eating invasive species doesn’t really make a difference, but it’s one of the many methods we could do to help. And there are more invasive species in the US, not just copi, lionfish, or catfish.
Here are some others that you can get (or catch), bring home, and cook.
This fish is native to China, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea and the head does look a little bit like the head of a snake. According to people who’ve tried them, the flavor is mild, less fishy (in aftertaste) than tilapia, and the flesh is flaky.
They were first spotted in Maryland about two decades ago, thought to have been released by a local fish market. Since then, they’ve spread along the Atlantic coast south to Florida and Massachusetts.
Similar to copi, the fish breed at a fast rate and they will stop at nothing to defend their young (both parents guard the nest).
What happens when domesticated pigs escaped (or released), haven’t returned, and occasionally interbred with wild boar? You get feral pigs.
Pigs are omnivorous, so they eat anything and everything; damaging the environment they’ve invaded and outcompeting the native wildlife. And, they breed like nobody’s business, so they are a problem in Australia, North America, and South America.
Because they’re descendants of domestic pigs, they can taste just as good albeit the little gamey taste. However, when prepared right, many people say that they’re not that bad. In fact, some areas have farmed them as an alternative to pork.
They’re like a smaller version of capybara mixed with beavers and might look cute—but their behavior is far from that. Originally from South America, they were introduced to many countries such as Japan, the US, Ireland, and New Zealand mostly as an alternative to mink; and they’ve done nothing but destroy habitats.
Although Nutria were introduced mainly because of their fur, don’t think that they’re inedible. A lot of people have consumed the meat, in fact, the rodents have been turned into foods like burgers, hot dogs, and dumplings quite recently. They’re high in high on omega-3 acids and they taste like a mix of turkey and pork.