May 8, 2006

Chicago Tribune goes big on big carp

Several pieces have appeared in the pages of the Chicago Tribune lately regarding the invasive Asian Carp which is threatening to overwhelm and spread causing havoc to waterways.

Frederick J. Frommer, the AP's carp hand, produced a piece dealing with a $400,000 spending bill which Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio slipped into an emergency spending bill for Iraq and hurricane relief. (condensed version here.)

After running several versions of Frommer's piece, the Trib put James Janega on the carp beat.

He wrote an illuminating two page feature on efforts to fish Asian carp and other aspects of the threat they pose, entitled "Carpe Diem", latin for "Seize the Day". In light of the fact they're trying to nab these suckers, shouldn't it have been "Carpe Carp"??

It mentions the situation with Jacobs and Shaeffer's Fisheries, and sheds some new light on the subject.
Across from Iowa on the Mississippi River, Mike Schafer of Schafer Fisheries in Thomson, Ill., says the future of his family's business lies with the carp. He's already bought a million-dollar freezer that shuffles 750 pounds of fish through a flash-freeze every nine minutes.

Schafer sold 2 million pounds of carp last year to Asian communities in New York, Toronto and Los Angeles. He ships another 3,000 pounds a week to restaurants and shops in Chicago's Chinatown.

"Right now, they're just snowballing," Schafer said. Like other owners of Midwestern fisheries, Schafer is looking for new markets to buy the carp. He has already offered a line of carp-based fertilizer to local farmers.

The horizons for his fish could widen further if he spends an additional $750,000 on a machine that can take 5,000 pounds of de-boned, ground-up carp an hour and form them into thousands of 4-oz. patties.

The Netherlands-built Koppens MultiFormer 900 is commonly used for red meat, but the Dutch have found it works for mulched fish, Schafer said. Almost anyone might eat the patties, proponents say--so long as they don't know they're carp.

A measure to supply the money through a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity was introduced by state Sen. Mike Jacobs (D-East Moline), who said it survived end-of-session budget wrangling Thursday and awaits signature by the governor. The state spent $100,000 last year to test the feasibility of controlling the carp through fishing.

"I laughed until I saw all these fish being processed. There's all these boatloads of Asian carp and they can't do anything with them," Jacobs said. "I don't think you can stop these fish, so I think we're going to have to maintain them."
I guess we can assume Sen. Jacobs didn't mean "maintain" the carp population, but rather to manage or at least hold the line against their spread or growth in number.

It also appears that Shaeffers is doing just bang up business with no end in sight for the expansion of their markets and increased profits. Yet they want the state taxpayer, through the efforts of Sen. Jacobs, to spring for some new processing equipment. Nice deal if you can get away with it, I guess. Beats doing business the old fashioned way.

In a previous post on this issue, I noted several very important but unanswered questions which would serve to make judging the worthiness of these various proposals and expenditures a lot easier.

I questioned whether there were any studies done, and if so, what were the results? Particularly, just how much of an effect, if any, would subsidizing a private company have on the carp problem? Would it have any effect at all?

Well, this article finally reveals that yes, there was a study done, and it cost us $100,000. Of course, I'm not sure where the results are, or if they're available to the public. The politicians aren't rushing to make them available, as far as I know.

In previous press coverage, Jacobs and the supporters of this measure seemed to be trying to tie the near million dollar taxpayer subsidy of Shaeffers' to the effort to eradicate the carp.

It seems that they've finally gotten off that line of defense, as evidenced by Jacobs essentially admitting that commercial fishing isn't going to do much to stop the advance of these menaces.

And last but not least, someone at the Trib was apparently dubious of the claims that carp is finger-lickin' good and sent some writers out to an Asian restaurant in Chicago's Chinatown carrying a plastic sack containing 15 lbs of juicy Asian carp to a place which could turn it into a meal.

What happened? Savor the yummy details.....
Emperor's Choice doesn't normally serve Illinois River Asian carp on its menu. But when we showed up at the Chinatown restaurant toting more than 15 pounds of the stuff in a plastic bag last Friday, chef Thomas Lui was happy to show us how it would be served on a typical Chinese table. We did call ahead and ask, though.

Our meal came out in four courses as follows.


We started with a mild milky carp broth accented with napa cabbage and cubes of silky tofu, the most assertive flavors coming from slender strips of fresh ginger.

SUGGESTED WINE PAIRING: unoaked South African Chardonnay.


Fatty and gelatinous chunks of braised fish noggin were infused with the fragrant black beans and fresh ginger, scallions, cilantro and garlic that could make anything--even jelloey fish head--taste delicious. Chef Lui tells us this is the favorite Chinese preparation for this fish because of the texture and richness of the cartilage. Plus, Eastern eaters find the steaks a pain in the neck with all of their tiny bones. The most sought after head bits come from the tender but meaty cheeks, with the eyes also being considered lucky bits, according to the man who sold us the carp, Trung Truong, owner of Five Continents grocery store in Archer Heights.

SUGGESTED WINE PAIRING: a fresh, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc would be excellent with this dish.


Deep-fried anything in a sweet, gloppy sauce can be hard to resist, but this was our least favorite of the four. Although the carp flesh remained moist--if bland--the sweet and sour sauce was a one-note affair. Slices of sweet pepper, onion and sea cucumber didn't add much else to the dish. [If sea cucumber can't save it, it's beyond hope.]

SUGGESTED WINE PAIRING: a nice Riesling from the Pacific Northwest or Alsace regions would be delightful with it.


This was similar to the sweet and sour preparation since the steaks were deep fried to perfection in a light batter. But here they were topped by chef Lui's famous sweet and savory kung pao sauce, redolent with fiery jalepeno slices and a shower of fresh cilantro. The ultra white moist tender flesh tasted of nothing, but with all of these other lovely flavors and textures going on, it was hardly missed. And every once in a while, as with all the dishes, a river of freshwater fish taste ran through it.

SUGGESTED WINE PAIRING: this sultry dish asks for a light-bodied Pinot Noir, as from the Carneros region of California.

Truong says that home cooks can sometimes really stink up the house with unskilled preparations of the dish. But if you can get someone like chef Lui to handle this fish--and you don't mind a lot of bones--we say it's edible.
There you have it! The writers conclude that carp is, indeed "edible". What more could you want?


At 5/08/2006 6:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This vicious fish represents a threat to nearly every species in our waterways. The fact that hauling in 10,000 lbs a day won't begin to put a dent in the supply of them in the Illinois River speaks volumes. Sadly, their taking over the waterways. The biggest threat is to the Great Lakes. If they start hopping the electric fence near Chicago, they will end up in the Chicago River and then into Lake Michigan.

Kudos to James Janega of the Chicago Tribune for excellent reporting on this issue. And kudos to Sen. Mike Jacobs for giving a damn about a conservation problem few care or know about.
And kudos to those commercial fishermen working their tails off every night to catch them. And kudos to the foreign markets for buying 10,000 lbs. a day of these nasty predators invading our waterways.

At 5/08/2006 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God bless us, every one.

At 5/08/2006 6:55 PM, Anonymous Interestedinourenviroment said...

It's better than criticizing others for taking action.

Sen. Jacobs gained world wide attention for his work with Asian Carp.

I saw Sen. Jacobs on CNN last week talking about the plight to rid our rivers of this foreign invader that is crowding out natural habitata and species.

Google: Mike Jacobs Asian Carp. It will shock you. I know it did me.

At 5/08/2006 7:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jacobs, to keep it real, isn't doing much to deal with the carp problem.

He's proposing giving a private company money to buy expensive processing machinery. By his own admission, this will do little if anything to address the spread of these fish or the damage they cause.

If you want to praise him for finding an issues and milking it for all it's worth for some personal publicity, then fine. He's done that well and congratulations on it if that's your idea of leadership.

But asking for nearly a million bucks for a privately owned company in your district doesn't quite justify painting Jacobs as some progressive environmental leader. Let's keep it real here.

Obama, at least, is getting funding for something that is actually needed to at least attempt to prevent the spread of these pests to the Great Lakes, which would truly be disasterous.

The carp are indeed a serious problem, but I'm afraid Jacobs is only riding the carp for publicity, though I guess that's part of his job.

But nothing he's proposed is in any way inovative, environmentally bold or creative. A legislator tring to get a big hunk of taxpayer money to give to a businessman in their district isn't exactly a "Profile in Courage", nor will it have much real effectiveness in dealing with the very problem Jacobs is wrapping himself in.

At 5/08/2006 8:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To 19:14 anonymous.

How do you know Jacobs is "milking it for publicity and personal promotion"? How can you ascribe those motivations? Have you spoken with him about this issue?

Come on, then you praise Obama?
Oh, no, he's not doing anything for personal publicity and PR? No, no, but only Jacobs is.

You know, this Asian Carp issue is of great concern to conservationists. It's of real concern to anyone on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. It's of real concern to Quad Citian of the Year, Chad Pedracke, who has educated Jacobs and inspired Jacobs to lead on this issue.

You know, smart aleck remarks about someone's intentions -- when you have no idea about his intentions or motivations -- are cheap shots.

At 5/08/2006 9:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not a "cheap shot" at all. You're way too defensive.

You drop Pedracke's name as if that means Jacobs is doing anything about the problem. Jacobs got educated about the issue. OK. That's good.

And his bold proposal to address the problem is to hand a privately owned company which is already poised to make a mint from this resource a million tax dollars?

What does this have to do with conservation? What does it do to help prevent the spread of these menaces? Sure, it will put a dent in the population and provide work and income for those who are involved in the harvesting and processing, but please.... giving money to Shaeffer's isn't bold leadership and has ZERO to do with conservation. Wise up.

I think it's outstanding that a local company is positioned to take advantage of the carp situation, and by the looks of it, they've really been sharp and aggressive in both identifying products and markets and making improvements and investments to meet them. They should stand to really increase their business and prosper. That's wonderful.

It's great when a problem like the carp has some commercial potential.

But aside from that, does the company really need money from our pockets to meet their goals? With such a rapidly expanding market, wouldn't many banks see a loan to Shaffers as a good bet?

Why public money?

And again saying that carp are of great concern to consevationists completely sidesteps the issue. Conservationists aren't clammoring for tax dollars to be given to Shaeffers to my knowledge.

What they ARE clammoring for is what Obama has accomplished, which is investment in a means to actually control the spread of Asian carp and prevent them for doing further damage by invading the Great Lakes.

You can suggest that Obama did this just for publicity, but I hardly think a guy of his public stature is banking on an electric carp fence to polish his image. Again, get real.

This is just trying to make the Shaeffer's deal seem like some big deal that it isn't.

I don't know what Jacobs' motivations are. I admit that.

But if his motivation is to do something meaningful and effective in eradicating the carp and preventing their spread, then handing dough to Shaeffer's ain't the way to do it.

Just my opinion. Sorry.

At 5/08/2006 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should add that as much as Jacobs brings attention to this issue, it's a good thing. So if he has anything to do with this getting more press, then it's all good, no matter what your view of his proposals on the matter may be.

At 5/08/2006 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

..and since I'm sure to be attacked, I should also add that I'm not so sure there is a "magic bullet" to fix the Asian carp problem, nor do I expect Jacobs to come up with one. The issue needs more expert input and study, and there seems precious little ideas for how to truly get them under control, if it's even possible.

I don't expect Jacobs to single-handedly solvw this complex and potentially unsolvable problem.

But neither do I think his proposal is very constructive, especially in light of the many areas which have had funding slashed and are in dire need of state help.

I simply think this isn't a matter for taxpayers to step into. It seems to me that normal business procedures (business loans, etc.) could easily take care of Shaeffer's expansion, and the loans would be easily repaid in the course of business.

Why public funds?

At 5/08/2006 10:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the last "anonymous" commenter who posted a string, glad you care about the issue. As someone who does myself, I welcome your passion. Most people kind of laugh about it.

The average legislator gets bombarded with requests on dozens of different issues in a given week, which is why I've applauded Sen. Jacobs for giving a damn about something so few know about and care about. So whether it's Obama funding the electric fence, which is important, or Jacobs funding Schaeffer, which is also important, both are attacking the problem and should be given a tip of the fisherman's cap.

The problem is too big not to expect some public funds. That's the answer. That's why it's smart to jumpstart Schaeffer's, that's why it's smart to strengthen the fence. If you take a look at the Chicago Tribune map of the wild and aggressive spread of these fish, you'll see why Obama and Jacobs are merely scratching the sand. We likely need a few more investments in a place like Schaeffer, but I'd do the next much farther south. Catching 10,000 lbs a day, when estimates by conservation officials are that there are billions of lbs of the predator fish right around our corner, won't cut it.

Jacobs and Obama are bringing fresh attention to the problem. So is Chad Pedracke, another Quad Citian. And as for me, I'm ready to join Briny the fisherman on the Illinois River and catch me some Asian Carp. Ahoy.

At 5/09/2006 8:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is what the DOpe misses --- there is not profit for a company to buy the equipment themselves. The end product doesn't produce enough revenue to make it a wise purchase. That is why government must purchase the equipment.

Perhaps someday the equipment will make someone wealthy, but not in our lifetime!

Three cheers to young leaders like Jacobs and Obama.

Did anyone besides me hear Sen. Mike Jacobs on "Steve Dahl live at five" in Chicago?

At 5/09/2006 11:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The commenter above is wrong and right. I'm not the dope, but you're correct that I really don't get that.

It seems that people just state "giving tax money to Shaeffers is a good idea" and there is NEVER any justification or reasoning behind it.

Are we expected to just blindly accept that without a shred of explanation as to why?

This at least takes a tiny step in the direction of justifying this large outlay of public funds, but it's not exactly informative.

So we have, "there is not profit for a company to buy the equipment themselves. The end product doesn't produce enough revenue to make it a wise purchase."

OK. Thanks for that at least.

Then WHY should taxpayers lay out nearly a million much needed dollars to buy this machinery for Shaeffers?

In other words, the question now seems to be, WHY in the world is it in the taxpayer's vital interests, in a time of extreme budget shortfalls, to enable a private firm to produce carp patties?

Is this just some cozy circular deal where Jacobs gets the taxpayers to cough up nearly a million bucks to buy pattie making machinery, then hands them some fat contract to inflict carp patties on state inmates?

THIS is what's being portrayed as some sort of courageous envirnomental stewardship by Jacobs?

Anyone care to take a crack at providing a real answers that might clear this up and at least try to make it seem to make sense?

At 5/09/2006 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was Jacobs on this shock jock's show because they were ridiculing the carp thing and he got sucked into participating?

I don't think Steve Dahl, the wild man of Chicago radio and guy who organized a "Disco Sucks" event years ago at Comisky park and blew up disco records and caused a small riot that forced the cancelation of a ball game, is the type to engage in serious discussion of invasive species.

Looks like Jacobs did't turn down a chance to get on a radio program, even if it's purpose was using a measure he's working on for cheap laughs.

Reminds me of Blago going on The Daily Show without knowing he was being mocked.

Did anyone hear this appearance?

At 5/09/2006 12:11 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Jacobs trying to get a plum subsidy for a constituent's company isn't unheard of for a politician. I'm sure the Shaeffers are very happy and some economic expansion in Thomson will be welcomed by those in that area.

But I'm not sure it qualifies for trying to portray Sen. Jacobs as the guy who is defending our precious natural resources from the very serious threat posed by these "vicious" carp.

All the articles as much as confess that this measure won't do more than make a dent in the carp population, won't limit their spread, nor will it prevent any of the serious damage they will do to our waterways.

This measure really has nothing to do with the carp other than that they're the raw material. The carp used in this pattie plan will be more than replaced by their rapid reproduction.

It's trying to finance a company with public tax dollars to buy equipment with which to produce the carp product, which then is proposed to be sold back to the state.

It has next to nothing to do with addressing the problem of "killer carp", which is truly a big problem which needs to be dealt with.

Yet Jacobs appears more than willing to act as though he's an environmental leader. That's a reach.

It's hard to tell whether he's helping to spread the word about this problem, or if he's chasing the press coverage of the issue.

But Jacobs is the only one doing something at least tangentially related to Asian carp, other than Obama.

But Obama is funding something which will actually have a real effect on preventing the spread of the carp. (the electric fence)

Jacobs proposal will be good for the Sheaffers, the Thomson area, and people who get jobs from the expanding business. That's all good. Focus on that.

But this is being portrayed as some great stand against an environmental menace, which it's clearly not. Even Shaeffer's admits as much.

It appears to me that once again it seems as though Jacobs is trying to put lipstick on a carp, so to speak.

I'd like to hear more about why, specifically, it is in the public's interest to subsidize Shaeffers in light of the fact that it will do precious little to address the serious carp problem.

My point is that this is an economic subsidy. That's fine if it's discussed and debated as such.

But it is not a measure which will have any real effect on addressing this very pressing and serious environmental problem and I find it disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

That's as hard to swallow as a carp pattie.

At 5/09/2006 1:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i hear they're going to make some delicious kung pao carp from these fish! viva la asian carp! viva la kunk pao carp!

At 5/09/2006 2:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fatty gelatinous chunks of carp heads are going to be HOT!

I'm hoping to get in on the ground floor of a string of Illinois Fried Carp (or IFC) franchises.

Cars will be lined up around the block waiting to get a big Bucket-o-Carp. (tm) in regular or extra bony.

At 5/09/2006 2:50 PM, Anonymous Brian F said...

Just goes to show you that people shouldn't talk about things they know nothing about. All these anonymous bloggers have no idea what they're talking about as usual.

At 5/09/2006 3:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chad Pragackie of Living Lands & Waters thinks it will make a does the Department of Natural Resources, and the llinois General Assembly.

Let it be noted that you don't think it will make a "difference."

Time will tell.

At 5/09/2006 5:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm getting very hungry reading that! Can they keep the eyes kind of squinty? Can they stamp "Jacobs-Obama" on each piece since they're the two public officials going after them?

At 5/09/2006 5:50 PM, Blogger diehard said...

I don't think its wrong for Sen. Jacobs to do this.
It's a new renewable product.
There is a demand.
Once we sell this type of carp and establish a new market it will create new jobs.
Ethical questions ....yeah maybe.
But if any of you out there in TV land have ever been to Springfield you'll see that this is something that might actually help our economy in the long run.
I have disagreed with Mike in the past, but I think this is a good thing!


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