Editorial: Fishing money out of the Illinois River

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

The Asian carp that have taken over the Illinois River may soon face a new, even more efficient predator: business.

By the start of April, a Rockford endocrinologist's company, Heartland Processing, is expecting to bring about 12 jobs to the river town of Havana as he opens an unusual type of rendering plant to process the fishy pest.

We will be particularly grateful if they can reduce the critters to a more manageable level, as they are a persistent problem for boaters - their spectacular leaps out of the water have been known to break noses - and an environmental hazard crowding out native plants and fish in our waterways. Indeed, this promises to showcase business at its finest, finding an innovative way to make a buck, solve a problem and provide jobs for a region that needs them. Win, win, win.

Unlike other rendering plants, which provide a constant, malodorous reminder to nearby communities that animal fat and protein are being cooked down, this one is touted as relatively free of foul odors for people living and working nearby. It is intended to heat whole carp until most of the liquid content is steamed away, leaving only fish protein and Omega-3 fish oil behind. The head of the company has said that samples tested in Alabama under the procedure, developed by Auburn University, also showed no traces of the pollutants or heavy metals that sometimes turn up in Illinois River catches.

The business opportunity would seem to be there with the sheer tonnage of carp that exists south of the Peoria Lakes. A state report from January 2008 estimated that over 18,000 pounds - 9 tons - of the fish are present on each mile of the river between Peoria and Beardstown. That should be enough to keep local fishermen, and the plant, going for a while.

The plant - a pilot facility for the company - will be located in a now-shuttered warehouse within a TIF district in Havana, but otherwise is drawing no government incentives. That stands in contrast to the stalled, three-year effort by a different company to bring a processing plant to Havana or Beardstown to sell food products made from the carp to overseas businesses. It pulled in a $100,000 grant from the state to research building a plant, but still lacks enough investors to get going.

We wish this business better luck. While we'd take a car plant, too, a carp plant will do what it can't: take on a non-native pest that the Illinois River's ecosystem can do without. It seems that the biggest local downside may be that the plant's success makes competition tougher at the annual Bath Redneck Fishing tournament in July. That's a side effect we trust most central Illinoisans can live with.

Peoria Journal Star