Posts Tagged ‘Feed Illinois Hungry Program’

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources deserves a round of applause, because they’ve come up with one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard of. The IDNR will use its program called Target Hunger Now to take the non-native invasive Asian Carp out of the river and on to the dinner plates of Illinois’ hungry.

The Asian Carp is actually not one type of fish, but three: the Silver, Bighead and Black Carp. They were originally imported from Southeast Asia for use in keeping aquaculture facilities free of plankton, algae and other microscopic organisms. Flooding at these aquaculture plants let the fish escape into our rivers and, in recent years, populations of these fish have exploded in the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers and many of their tributaries.

The Asian Carp are a major problem for several reasons. First, they’re really big fish. The carp average 30 to 40 pounds each, but the largest can be up to 7-feet long and tip the scales at up to 150 pounds. These behemoths are voracious eaters who can consume up to 20 percent of their own body weight in algae and plankton (and, in the case of the Black variety, muscles and sturgeon eggs) per day. They also are prolific breeders, so even though some predators like eagles, pelicans, herons and some large-mouth bass have been known to eat some of the juveniles, far too many of the fish reach a size where they are too large to be eaten. Due to their number, size and appetite, they simply out-compete local fish populations. 

The other major problem the carp are known for is the way that they jump. Low decibel vibrations, like the noise from a boat motor, cause the fish to launch themselves in the air. I saw this first hand on Quincy Bay while I was kayaking with Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon this summer. It was really something to see dozens of fish launch into the air when a small john boat passed us — and it’s easy to imagine that if you were in a moving boat and got struck by one of these fish, you could face potential injury.

That’s why moving the carp from jumping in the rivers to jumping onto dinner plates seems like such a good idea. The fish is already a popular dinner item in parts of Asia and Europe, but Americans are just warming up to the idea. The Asian Carp can be quite tasty when prepared well.  Unlike native carp species, Asian Carp feed within the water column rather than off of the bottom of the river. Anyone who has tasted a particularly “muddy” catfish will know that bottom feeders are not culinary winners. Fish that feed in the water column are also lower in contaminates like methyl mercury than bottom feeders.

Target Hunger Now has already hosted many successful events in Illinois. According to its website, more than 2,000 Illinois families took advantage of the donated venison (deer) program last year. Target Hunger Now hopes that as much as 40,000 pounds of fish can be processed daily. They also expect to distribute 100,000 pounds of venison this year through the Illinois food bank system. This equates to approximately 3.3 million protein-rich meals available free to those who are facing hunger in our communities. And a bonus: catching and processing these fish is creating jobs right here in Illinois.

There are lots of great online resources if you’d like to learn more about Target Hunger Now or the invasive Asian Carp:

Stay tuned to the Get Out blog later this month for information on the Illinois Sportsmen Against Hunger program.

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