PEORIA, Ill. | Greg Dabbs says it's time to dispense with the hysteria over the proliferation of Asian carp in the Illinois River and start making money with the invasive species.
Dabbs, a 45-year-old commercial fisherman who lives in Peoria, said the idea of processing fish that's taken over the river only makes sense.
"This is not a new idea or business model. It's being used all the time in the Gulf of Mexico and in Alaska," he said.
Researchers at Southern Illinois University have estimated that Asian carp now makes up 60 percent of aquatic life in the Illinois River.
Dabbs isn't short on ideas about what to do with all that life.
"You could turn the fish into fertilizer. You could separate the oil from the fish like they do in Alaska," he said.
Fish also could be flash frozen for human consumption, said Dabbs, who also throws out the possibility of carp caviar.
He also wants to throw out something else.
"We need to give up on this idea of shipping carp to China. At least four different attempts have been made that I know about and they just haven't worked out," he said, citing red tape and China's reluctance to pay a premium for fish shipped across the Pacific.
Helping Dabbs crack the carp market is John Hamann, rural economic development director for Peoria County. "There ought to be something we can do with this abundance of fish that would help people in this area and create income and jobs."
Hamann said he took part in economic development meetings held over the past year by Focus Forward Central Illinois.
"I attended all the asset-mapping sessions. It seemed that at every one of them somebody mentioned Asian carp," he said.
Hamann has organized a group with local, state and regional representation that looks to meet next month to find economic uses for the fish. While ideas are always welcome, money is the real need, he said.
"The problem is that we can't get any (financial) help from the state or federal government to develop anything here (in central Illinois) because it's all going north," said Hamann, referring to efforts to keep carp out of the Great Lakes that include a million-dollar electronic barrier.
Undeterred, Dabbs plans to install a flash freezer in a Peoria riverfront warehouse that's been donated for his use.
"I need a wallet to help me out with that," he said, estimating his immediate need at about $60,000 for equipment and installation.
"I turned down three legitimate offers for large orders of fish last year because I had no way to store them," said Dabbs, noting that "a big buyer" from Rhode Island with an interest in serving the European market would visit the area later this month.
Dabbs, who maintains a website called fishjuicefertilizer.com, credited Jim Dixon, of Dixon Fisheries, with helping provide assistance and contacts.
The ideal plan would be to develop small processing plants up and down the river that could convert carp into liquid fertilizer and fish oil as well as fish meal, said Dabbs. The payback for those products would more than offset the economic challenge of setting up those plants, he said.
For Hamann, the challenge remains having to bring serious players to the table to tackle the carp problem. "There's tremendous potential for economic development if we can get certain things worked out."
Dabbs, meanwhile, always is finding new uses for the pesky carp.
"I've heard that up in Canada they're doing research on using fish oil as a fuel additive," he said.