Kevin Irons’ introduction to invasive carp came in a peculiar but fitting way. In the 1990s, when Irons worked as a large river ecologist for the Illinois Natural History Survey, an angler carried a curious-looking bighead carp into Irons’ office at the Illinois River Biological Station. The bearer of the fish had a simple question that went something like, “What the heck is this?”
Irons knew the answer. And he knew the battle was beginning.
More than two decades later, Irons has seen boatloads and boatloads of the dreaded invasive species. Today, he is the Illinois DNR’s assistant chief of fisheries. His past duties have included representing his state by working with a host of committees charged with keeping invasive carp from swimming up Illinois waterways into Lake Michigan.
He has also been promoting the nearly one-year-old national campaign to rebrand the Asian carp, which in Illinois and other participating states is now called “copi.”
Irons, with help from Brian Schoenung, the Illinois DNR’s aquatic nuisance species program manager – a job Irons once held – agreed to provide some updates on the invasive carp situation and how the new name is playing out.
Outdoor News: We have seen recent reports of carp being found on the Upper Mississippi in Minnesota and some ongoing reports from the Kentucky Lake/Lake Barkley waterways. Otherwise, things seem relatively quiet. Is this a good sign or just a lull?
Irons: There is consistently more work ongoing regarding bighead, silver, grass, and black carp in Illinois and surrounding states. Perhaps because of this work, there are fewer surprises and the information is helping provide management agencies some direction. Work falls in three categories: detection, prevention, and management and control, generally.
We see work ongoing in all of these avenues. Most notable might be the rebranding of these carps as copi for dining pleasure. The rebranding has allowed opportunities for many to try copi and thus, with good review, opens a market for removing more and more bighead, silver, grass, and black carp from our waters. This then provides a tool to aid in managing these species, preventing their spread, as well as reducing the impacts on our native species.
ON: At this point, what is the closest an invasive carp has gotten to Lake Michigan?
Irons: This has been a major focus for the Illinois DNR and our many partners since 2009 when we took aggressive measures to become informed about these species and, in particular, their threat to the Great Lakes.
Only two bighead carp, and one silver carp have been found in the Calumet River system (above electric barriers) to date.
ON: Other than the fish’s dislike of Motley Crue – an effect discovered during a sounding device barrier experiment at Keokuk, Iowa – are there any new findings about stopping invasive carp we may not have heard?
Irons: The type of sound makes a big difference, according to our research partners in the (U.S. Geological Survey) and (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). Motley Crue, as you suggest, or recorded motorboat sounds have shown to be effective in deterring fish, but rarely if ever is anything 100% effective.
So work is being done in regards to focusing on the helpful sounds and eliminating the noise that is not deterring fish. When, as teens we turned up the 8-track and blasted “our” music, we may have damaged speakers because of too much bass, or high/low frequency sounds. Only sending out effective sounds, and eliminating those that do not work, assist in protecting equipment and potentially affecting other species and/or costs in operation.
Work at Keokuk and similar work near Kentucky/Barkley Lock and Dam are both informing on what is deployable and can be effective. It is an ongoing process, and efficacy is clearly tied to site specific needs and goals.
ON: There is a lot of money being budgeted toward an infrastructure project that would add redundancy to existing carp control that includes the electric barrier near Romeoville, Ill., population culling through commercial fishing, and establishing a commercial market for invasive carp. What will the new project add to the effort?
Irons: Illinois has partnered with the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the state of Michigan to find ways to develop redundancies and add layers of technologies to embolden our current measures. The budget items stand to support those prudent measures that come from this partnership. Michigan has also dedicated money to the project.
Regular communication and coordination across all the Great Lake states and provinces on this issue are ongoing.
ON: It’s been almost a year since Illinois launched a marketing effort to rebrand invasive carp as copi. Are you noticing any impact from that campaign? Are there states joining or are some still sitting on the fence on the new name?
Irons: Absolutely, the copi branding is being recognized internationally by several organizations for the goals and excellence found in this rebranding.
The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences selected copi to receive an Anthem Award in the Sustainability, Environment, and Climate category. The Anthem awards honor purpose and mission-driven work that sparks global change.
Copi has been nominated as a Silver Anvil Award finalist from the Public Relations Society of America. For more than 75 years, the Anvils have been the highest honor in the public relations profession. They celebrate the best strategic public relations campaigns of the year, as well as outstanding organizational excellence. Not to mention significant articles in Forbes and WIRED magazine.
Making a problem a source of protein and solving an environmental issue is in line with the line from the campaign: “Eat Well, Do good!” Processors and retail stores show a two- to four-times increases in monthly sales and products developed include minced copi, copi strips, copi empanadas, copi burgers/sliders, copi bolognese, and copi rangoons.
Distribution hubs have been or are being secured with over 33 million pounds of bighead and silver carp being removed from Midwestern states. Products have been served from California to New York.