A money-making idea: Exporting Asian carp to China

While not exactly making lemonade from lemons, officials in Mississippi are hoping they can take a growing problem with an invasive fish species and turn it into a money-maker.

On Tuesday, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and officials from Moon River Foods, a subsidiary of China's Shanghai Shen Ren Trade Co., Ltd., said the company would invest $3 million and hire up to 100 people to harvest and process Asian carp caught in the state.

According to the Mississippi Development Authority, Moon River Foods will work with contract fishermen licensed by the state to commercially harvest Asian carp from the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The fish will then be brought for processing to a new facility in the town of Baird and eventually be exported to China, where they're a staple food.

Moon River plans to have its Asian Carp production line up and running by the fourth quarter of this year. "We will try our best to make the project a success and provide job opportunities and economic development in the Mississippi Delta," the company's chairman, Xiaohan Zhu, said in a press statement.

Asian carp have been a massive problem in America's waterways for decades now. The fish were originally brought to the U.S. in the 1970s, reportedly to control weed and parasites in aqua culture farms. But according to the National Park Service (NPS), several ended up in the Mississippi and established breeding populations.

The carp, which can grow up to 100 pounds in weight and four feet long in size, out-compete native fish species and can take over entire lakes and streams. The NPS says several different species of Asian carp have made their way up the Mississippi as far north as Minnesota.

And if the carp continue to spread through the Mississippi River watershed, the NPS projects they could end up reaching 31 states across 40 percent of the continental United States, "spelling disaster for our nation's freshwater ecosystems."

The Moon River Foods project in Mississippi is ambitious. According to TheAssociated Press, the company plans to harvest 25 million pounds of Asian carp annually -- compared to the 570,000 pounds of carp that were reportedly caught in the state in 2010.

And Duane Chapman, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Missouri who studies carp, says the regional Asian carp stocks might not last, if they are fished as heavily as planned.

"It would be wonderful if they could," Chapman told AP. "We don't have a great estimate of how long the fish population could hold out."

  • Bruce Kennedy

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