The Midwest has an invasive carp problem, and the state of Illinois has come up with a novel solution. The state and its partners have decided to convince more people to eat them. And to do so, they’re rebranding them.
Meet “copi,” the fish formerly known as Asian carp. Copi is Illinois’ new market-tested, consumer-friendly name for silver, bighead, black, and grass carp. The name is a play on the word “copious,” meaning abundant in supply or quantity. Since they were brought to the U.S. in the 1970s to help fish farmers keep their retention pools clean, copi have spread north from the deep South. The fish are now within striking distance of the Great Lakes, where they threaten the region’s $7 billion commercial and sport fishing industry and $15 billion recreational boating industry. While there are no precise estimates of invasive carp populations in U.S. waters, there are believed to be millions.
“The new name and brand are designed to address public misconceptions about this delicious top-feeding fish, which is overrunning Midwest waterways,” writes the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) in a June 22 news release. Illinois has launched a website called choosecopi.com that provides recipes for the fish and extols them as “mild, clean-tasting fish with heart-healthy omega-3s and very low levels of mercury.” The website emphasizes that they’re locally sourced and sustainably wild-caught to boot. Twenty-one chefs and retailers have agreed to feature copi on their menus, including Brian Jupiter, the head chef at Chicago’s Ina Mae Tavern. “Copi is more savory than tilapia, cleaner tasting than catfish, and firmer than cod,” Jupiter says. “It’s the perfect canvas for creativity.”
More than $600 million in state and federal intervention has been put into carp removal since 2004. Illinois’s marketing campaign cost $600,000. State officials are reminding the public of the successful image overhauls for the slimehead (orange roughy), the Patagonian toothfish (Chilean sea bass), and the mud crab (peekytoe). “Government subsidies [for carp removal] alone will not end this war,” John Goss, former White House invasive carp advisor told the Associated Press. “Private-sector, market-driven demand for copi could be our best hope.”
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Illinois plans to petition the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to formally change the name and is planning to register “copi” as a trademark. “Among the requirements to win federal approval for a name change is the widespread use of the name,” says Kevin Irons, assistant fisheries chief for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and an invasive species specialist. “So there is one thing that everyone can do to help save the Great Lakes: Call the fish copi.”