Fishermen have already been catching Asian carp for at least a decade, and in growing numbers. Steve McNitt, sales director at Schafer Fisheries in Thomson, Ill., the Midwest's largest fish processor, says his company bought 20 million pounds last year – much of which was minced for domestic use or exported whole to Brazil, Israel, and China.
Orion Briney, who fishes almost exclusively for Asian carp on the Illinois River, says his two crews can bring in as much as 25,000 pounds of carp a day using nets and 30-foot aluminum boats. "It's been good for us," he says.
Illinois is also paying fishermen to remove Asian carp from waterways just south of Chicago. This effort has succeeded in reducing carp numbers at the leading edge of their expansion, says Kevin Irons of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Proponents of a carp industry say fishermen could catch many more than they do now. The problem is what comes afterward. The Mississippi Basin lacks enough processing plants, the consequence of a long decline in commercial fishing, industry and other experts say. There's also a shortage of markets. Some officials have extolled the potential for exporting large quantities of carp to China, but the logistics are difficult – the fish need to be taken quickly to scarce processing plants to be frozen, and the Chinese are very exacting about the quality – and the margins are slim.
"There are a lot of plans out there," says Mr. McNitt, who says he gets daily calls about Asian carp. "To make them come together is very difficult."
Some argue that governments should do more to subsidize an Asian carp industry, including placing a bounty on them. Last year, Illinois gave $2 million to Big River Fish Corp., a company in Pearl, Ill., to outfit a plant that can flash-freeze carp for export. (The plant has yet to open.)