CHICAGO – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today announced that $100,000 in Opportunity Returns funding has been provided to conduct a survey designed to find solutions for managing the invasive Asian carp population, a nuisance fish that is highly disruptive to the Illinois River’s ecosystem, by harvesting the fish and processing it into a marketable good. Carp Protein Products, LTD of Havana is conducting the study. Havana is an Illinois River community located close to the Asian carp epicenter and adjacent to critical Illinois research facilities.
"Economic development is about more than increasing business productivity and improving the skills of our workforce. It’s also about developing solutions to challenging problems that limit economic opportunity and drain community resources. The Asian carp is a serious threat to the health and well being of the Illinois River and the communities alongside it. By supporting this important survey, we’re investing in the vitality of one of our critical natural assets and sparking new economic opportunity that could pay real dividends," Gov. Blagojevich said.
The survey has been studying quantities and locations of Asian carp populations, developing harvest techniques and assessing the viability of a future economic development project utilizing the unwanted species of Asian carp for commercial purposes. Results of the survey have led the company to conclude that a profitable business with long-term viability can be developed by processing the Asian carp to make a fish product extract used to make flavored seafood products common in Asia and other parts of the world. Carp Protein Products now hopes to begin planning and design for the construction of a processing plant in north central Illinois.
"Opportunity Returns is about working at the community level and forming partnerships to accomplish local priorities. Finding a way to control the Asian carp population and protecting our river’s ecosystem is a major priority of this region, and I’m thrilled that Gov. Blagojevich is using this state and local partnership to spearhead a creative effort to develop sustainable solutions," State Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville) said.
"Gov. Blagojevich understands that economic opportunities often present themselves in places others might have overlooked. This is an investment that could turn an environmental problem into a potentially profitable business that could help our working families get ahead," State Senator Deanna Demuzio (D-Carlinville) said.
"It takes a real sense of determination as well as innovation to come up with solutions for managing a population of fish as stubborn as the Asian carp has proven to be. Partnerships like this one with Gov. Blagojevich's Opportunity Returns program are the key to making that happen, and this funding has allowed us to perform the necessary research needed to determine that, in the midst of this environmental headache, lies a viable business opportunity," said Jim Sneed, owner of Carp Protein Products.
The grant funding came from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), while the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is providing additional in-kind services.
"Through Gov. Blagojevich’s leadership, we’re finding innovative ways to address local challenges that also propel new growth. By funding this survey, we’ve invested in a business idea that is both economically and environmentally beneficial and has real potential to succeed in the marketplace. The byproduct of this kind of innovation is often new jobs and a more vibrant regional economy," DCEO Director Jack Lavin said.
Gov. Blagojevich also recently sent a letter to Illinois’ Congressional Delegation urging them to support a resolution that bans Asian carp. Currently fish farmers in southern states, such as Arkansas and Mississippi, import the Asian black carp to eat parasites that threaten their catfish. House Resolution 3049, the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act, would make it illegal for states to import Asian carp.
"This is the proverbial making lemonade out of lemons," said IDNR Director Joel Brunsvold. "This project takes a serious problem, the invasive Asian carp, and looks to create a solution that is good for both the environment and the economy. Any time you can turn problems into profits, it’s a good thing."
Illinois has learned from the Silver and the Bighead carp just how destructive Asian carp are to native ecosystems. The Silver and Bighead carp originated in Illinois from escapees from fish farms in Arkansas and Mississippi. Once in the Mississippi River, these species successfully reproduced and swam in huge numbers toward Illinois. Today, Silver and Bighead carp comprise up to 75 percent or more of the fish population in many areas of the Illinois River.
If Asian carp are allowed to enter the Great Lakes, this invasive species could devastate the aquatic ecosystem of the world's largest source of freshwater. Asian carp pose a variety of threats to native fish and aquatic ecosystems because they can consume much of the food chain. They eat aquatic plants, compete for plankton with native fish, and eat snails and clams. These voracious feeders breed prolifically and can weigh more than 100 pounds.
Gov. Blagojevich signed a bill this summer allowing the state to regulate Asian carp imported to, and transported within, the state of Illinois. But if other states are not under the same regulations, the legally imported carp in southern states can travel through the river system and contaminate Illinois waters, which is why it must be illegal for any state to import Asian carp.
Gov. Blagojevich also recently wrote to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) requesting it rule in favor of banning Asian carp. The USFWS has proposed a ban but has not yet made a final decision.
The survey is determining best practices to promote environmental management of these invasive species in the Illinois River and help prevent them from progressing into the Great Lakes system. The Havana area is being considered as a site for the plant because of its proximity to large concentrations of Asian carp.
Gov. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns regional economic development strategy is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history. Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development just doesn’t work, the Governor has divided the state into 10 regions – each with a regional team that is empowered and expected to rapidly respond to opportunities and challenges. Opportunity Returns is about tangible, specific actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to businesses. It is about upgrading the skills of the local workforce, increasing the access to capital, opening new markets, improving infrastructure, and creating and retaining jobs. Opportunity Returns is about successfully partnering with companies and communities, both large and small, to help all of Illinois reach its economic potential.