What if a fish cake or dumpling could not only be a delicious dinner, but also a way to control an invasive species? In recent years this has been attempted with Asian carp or copi as they are now being called, which pose a significant threat to many lakes and rivers around the country.
Asian carp actually refers to four different species of carp native to Russia and China. They are the grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idello), the bighead carp ( Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), the black carp ( Mylopharyngodon piceus),and the silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix). Brian Shoenung, Aquatic Nuisance Species Program Manager and Aquaculture Manager in the Fisheries Division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said that Asian carp push out native fish from preferred habitats. He stated that due to their large size they have the potential to deplete the zooplankton population which reduces food for all larval fish as well as some adult fish and native mussels. He said that species most impacted include the paddlefish, buffalo, and gizzard shad. He also noted that they create a hazard for recreational boating by jumping out of the water. Schoenung said that many native predators will consume the small carp, but they grow very quickly and become too large for most native predators. According to the Audubon Guide to Fish, grass carp and silver carp can grow up to 39 inches and grass carp can weigh up to 100 pounds.
Unlike many of the more recent arrivals, which have been accidentally introduced, bighead and silver carp were brought to the U.S. in the late 60’s and early 70’s as biological control. Schoenung said both intentional and unintentional stockings of grass carp have taken place and black carp were likely in contaminated shipments of grass carp, but once they were discovered they were used for snail control in aquaculture ponds. He noted this was following the publication of Silent Spring when there was growing concern over the use of chemicals for this purpose.
Schoenung said Asian carp have been used for food for quite awhile, but that incentives in the Illinois River started in 2019. He said that it was early to determine the effects of harvesting, but that almost 10 million pounds have been removed from the Illinois River since 2019 and scientists were starting to see “positive signs of that impact.”
As was mentioned at the beginning, the four species of Asian carp have been rebranded as copi. Choosecopi.com stated that “copi” is a shortened version of “copious,” referring to the fish’s abundance and said the renaming was a combined effort of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Asian Carp Steering Committee, and Southern Illinois University. Schoenung said the name change was to give them a unique identity and differentiate them from more than 20 other species of carp. Invasive species are a frequent topic in environmental news, and while eating them isn’t a solution for all, Schoenung said there are others for which this might be a means of control and he mentioned lionfish, nutria, and feral swine. He also said they were a nutritious protein source and it would be “irresponsible” not to use them this way.
Choosecopi.com stated that the fish are high in Omega 3 and since they are fast growing, they don’t accumulate contaminants as much as other fish higher in the food chain. The website also said that in addition to helping to restore native species, such as walleye, perch, and lake trout harvesting copi addresses food security issues as well. Gina Behnfeldt, Project Manager for Choosecopi.com said that the price of copi was “competitive” with other fish and she encouraged people to ask for copi if local supermarkets did not carry it. The website, which includes several recipes, said that they work with a range of seasoning and can be pan fried, broiled, baked, roasted, grilled or ground for cakes, dumpling, and tacos.
Invasive species are a major threat to biodiversity worldwide and Asian carp are no exception. In addition, food security issues have become especially pronounced in recent years and foods high in protein have been particularly difficult for many people. However, encouraging a market for copi achieves the goal of both limiting food insecurity and restoring healthy diverse aquatic ecosystems for many generations to come.
Purple Copi Fish Cakes
Prep: 25 mins
Cook time: 6 mins.
8 oz. minced raw copi
6 oz. purple cooked rice
2 tbsp. blue corn masa
1 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste
1 oz. chili sauce
1-2 tbsp. orange juice
In a large bowl combine copi, rice herbs, and spices. Add masa and mix well. Refrigerate 16 mins. For the mango coulis, peel and seed the mango. Place it in a blender with orange juice and puree at high speed. Pass through fine sieve to remove small bits. Refrigerate. Shape 8 patties and coat with breadcrumbs. Pan fry in canola oil on medium heat for 2-3 minutes and place on towel to drain excess oil. Spoon mango coulis on a plate with copi cakes in the middle. Top with micro greens and fresh pepper. Serve warm. Enjoy! For more recipes, see choosecopi.com.