A New Name for Asian Carp to Protect the Great Lakes

Leading a major initiative to expand the market for invasive Asian carp threatening midwestern U.S. waterways
Jan 27, 2023 8:00 AM ET
Asian carp jumping out of the water alongside a fishing boat on the Illinois River

Tetra Tech is leading a major marketing initiative for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to expand the consumer market for invasive Asian carp that threaten midwestern U.S. waterways and the Great Lakes.

The IDNR engaged Tetra Tech to lead a major initiative to give Asian carp a new, fresh name in an effort to encourage people to eat them to support their removal from midwestern waterways. Invasive Asian carp reproduce at overwhelming rates and outcompete native fish for resources, disrupting the ecological balance of freshwater rivers and lakes in the Midwest. Their populations are staggering in many areas. For example, invasive Asian carp are as much as 70 percent of the biomass in some areas of the Illinois River.

“Harvesting Asian carp for consumer consumption is proving to be one of the most effective strategies to address the ecological threat posed by these invasive fish while also supporting the local economy.”

Changing a name to help solve an ecological threat

Name changes have proven effective in the past to increase consumer interest in various food products, including fish now commonly known as Mahi-mahi, orange roughy, and Chilean sea bass. Under the IDNR’s direction, Tetra Tech led a design and marketing team to conduct consumer research to develop a new name for Asian carp and highlight the fresh, clean, healthy, and delicious qualities of these fish.

“This approach puts market demand to work and directly engages consumers to help solve a dire ecological problem,” said Gina Behnfeldt, vice president of our northeastern U.S. economic development services and Tetra Tech project manager for the marketing initiative. “Where public dollars are limited, using consumer demand can provide tremendous resources to address this challenge. And these fish are not a hard sell. They are light and clean-tasting, great sources of protein, and responsibly sourced—all qualities that resonate well with consumers today.”

Harvest is proving to be one of the most effective strategies so far for reducing overwhelming invasive Asian carp populations in midwestern waterways. Creating a new, robust market for them is an innovative solution that helps address the ecological threat posed by these fish while also supporting the local midwestern U.S. economy. Increased consumption of these fish can help restore and protect native walleye, perch, lake trout, and other native fish populations. It also can create jobs and support local small-scale fisheries, restaurants, and other businesses that have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June, Illinois officially revealed the new name for Asian carp as Copi, originating from copious, to highlight the many nutritional and ecological benefits of consuming these fish.

Collaborating to create a successful market for Copi

“Tetra Tech was a great manager for our project to consider how best to handle a complex problem of reducing these invasive fish populations,” said Kevin Irons, assistant fisheries chief for the IDNR. “To bring economic expertise to such a natural resource issue provided for the very best solutions with solid economic and biological underpinnings to benefit Illinois natural resources. Such collaborations across fields should occur more often to the benefit of all our programs.”

Tetra Tech has worked with the IDNR for more than 10 years to manage and monitor invasive Asian carp populations in Illinois waters and create action plans to prevent their spread into the Great Lakes ecosystem. The IDNR has largely been employing the help of commercial fishers to reduce the number of carp that could migrate upstream into the Great Lakes.

Tetra Tech is continuing to support supply chain efforts and aiming to expand the distribution of Copi to establishments across the U.S. market.

“We plan to increase harvesting efforts by hiring more local fishers,” said Gina. “Having already removed more than 10 million pounds of Asian carp from midwestern U.S. waters, we aim to remove 20 million pounds of them by 2025. Copi on the plate is a great tool to accomplish this management.”

“As beef is to the cattle industry, Copi is to Asian carp fishery,” said Kevin. “It gives the fillet a name that is well-received and delicious!”

Learn more about how the new market for Copi can protect the Great Lakes and support the local economy.

Images courtesy of Alex Garcia