LEDBETTER, KY -
Asian Carp is an invasive species with such a rapidly growing population that the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife says it difficult to track the numbers.
Kentucky Fish & Wildlife Fisheries Program Coordinator Neal Jackson says it's very difficult to calculate the population size because of the difficulty in catching them relative to their abundance. Jackson said their large population size is harmful because they feed on plankton that other fish need.
Kentucky Fish & Wildlife Fisheries Director Ron Brooks says they're trying to create a commercial value for Asian carp to help keep population levels low. Brooks says he encourages fisheries like Blue Shore, which are helping the problem while also creating jobs and food.
Blue Shore Fisheries is buying thousands of pounds of Asian carp from commercial fisherman. Right now they're working on a smaller scale with RCB Fishing Company.
Blue Shore Fisheries part owner Dr. Lan Chi "Lula" Luu, a partner with RCB, is trying to turn this nuisance into a yummy meal.
“What we have done here is found ways to make boneless fillets from it and then, from this product, we're able to make all natural products, like fish paste that goes into making imitation crab meat, other boneless fillets, fish burgers, fish nuggets and a whole host of other products that we sell, not only domestically, but internationally,” Luu said.
Luu said they're also helping fisherman in the process. Asian carp runs about 10 cents a pound. Kentucky Fish & Wildlife has been working on a nickel-per-pound subsidy for the last year to encourage catching more Asian carp. Brooks says they're working with state finances to create a mechanism to pay commercial fisherman. In the meantime, Blue Shore Fisheries is adding that nickel to their price.
“We met with a lot of the fisherman here, including the Commercial Fisherman Association, and what we found from talking with them is 15 cents is really what they need in order to catch this fish for us,” Luu said.
She said they're also finishing renovations on a bigger plant in Graves County. She says the plant will need about 100,000 pounds a fish a day and will give fishermen more opportunity to sell.
Commercial fisherman Ronnie Hopkins, who works for Blue Shore Fisheries, says getting paid more per pound and the bigger demand will really help local commercial fishermen.
“Slowing down the problem of Asian carp, we've been fighting them. I've been fighting them with Fish & Wildlife for the last 15 years," Hopkins said. "We're going to have over 100 fishermen periodically through the year. That's a real big boost to the fisherman and to the economy with everybody working."
The larger site is undergoing renovations but should open by late July, according to Luu. The plant was planned to open in early summer, but Luu says because Asian carp is so big they had to order customized machinery and test out a few kinks. She said once the plant opens they'll do their next round of hires and may even add a second shift down the road.
Other Asian carp fisheries in the western Kentucky area include Two Rivers Fisheries in Ballard County as well as Riverine Fisheries in Hickman Kentucky, which is in the process of opening.