Can Illinois turn Asian carp into Chilean sea bass?

State to announce new name for Asian carp Wednesday in hope that people will see them differently and, more importantly, eat them.

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Fishermen Orion Briney, left, and Jeremy Fisher use trammel nets to haul in Asian carp from the Illinois River near Peoria, Ill., in this May 21, 2004, file photo.

State officials hope rebranding the Asian carp will lead to more people eating the fish and more commercial fishing operations pulling them from the Illinois River.

AP file

An Asian carp by any other name is still an Asian carp — but Illinois officials hope people will bite.

A new name for the much-maligned fish will be announced Wednesday by state officials who hope the rebrand will shed the negative image of a muddy-tasting bottom-feeder and inject the truth — they’re top-feeding plankton eaters that taste quite good.

The “Big Reveal” will be presented by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which hired a design team to come up with the new name and accompanying logo.

“We did extensive testing and talking to folks, something like 1,000 people looked at and reviewed the name and designs, this one was like infinitely well responded to, leaps and bounds over the other names,” said Nick Adam, a principal with Span Studio.

Adam, working for a different firm at the time, also helped come up with the name “Divvy” for the city’s bike-share program.

State officials hope the rebrand will lead to more people eating the fish, which would lead more commercial fishing operations to pull them from the Illinois River and, ultimately, decrease their numbers and the risk that Asian carp could eventually make their way into the Great Lakes.

The fish, an invasive species and a voracious eater, could jeopardize the ecosystem of the Great Lakes by eating too much plankton, the basis of a food chain for many other creatures. 

The effort is backed by $600,000 in federal funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for the initial rebrand and to get the name into the minds of the public over three or four years of marketing.

“You can have a great launch but that’s just the start of the race,” said Kevin Irons, assistant chief of fisheries for the IDNR. “But at some point, we want to sort of get out of the way and hand it over to the industry.”

Irons hopes the rebrand and accompanying tagline will create a lasting association akin to “Milk does a body good” or “Pork. The other white meat.” 

Illinois officials will apply to formally change the name with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of the year.

One requirement for changing the name is widespread use of the new name.

Owner Dirk Fucik prepares a Asian carp burger inside Dirk’s Fish and Gourmet Shop at 2070 N Clybourn Ave in Sheffield Neighbors, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020.

Dirk Fucik, owner of Dirk’s Fish and Gourmet Shop in Lincoln Park, grills Asian carp burgers outside his shop in October 2020.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

One complaint about the fish is that it’s bony, and not just bony, but it has Y-shaped bones that are harder to remove than the pin bones found in many fish like salmon.

For this reason, Dirk Fucik, owner of Dirk’s Fish in Lincoln Park, grinds up Asian carp, bones and all, and turns the meat into burger patties and meatballs.

He’s been offering Asian carp to customers for years — with limited success.

A decade ago he served Asian carp burgers at the Taste of Chicago for people to try.

Initial hesitancy was overcome when people learned he was giving them away for free.

“Then everybody liked them,” Fucik said.

Chef Brian Jupiter will be part of the rebrand announcement Wednesday and plans to serve the fish at his restaurant, Ina Mae Tavern in Wicker Park.

Jupiter has said the fish is more savory than tilapia, cleaner tasting than catfish and firmer than cod.

Lee Lantz, the retired West Coast fish wholesaler who’s known for renaming the Patagonian Tooth Fish the Chilean sea bass, said a lot more Asian carp sampling will be needed to get the idea to stick. 

“It’s gonna need more than just a name,” said Lantz, 74, a California native who took a break from a cross-country motorcycle ride to chat with the Chicago Sun-Times from a gas station in Oregon.

“It’s a big project because nobody’s going to buy the fish just to help clean them out of the rivers,” he said.

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