WJ Editorial

Throw Another Copi On The Barbie?

It’s high summer, the perfect time to hike, camp, fish and throw another copi on the barbie.

Wait, what?

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has rolled out a $600,000 ad campaign to “rebrand” the fish formerly known as Asian carp. Chef Brian Jupiter announced the change at a news conference in Chicago. The new name chosen is “copi,” short for “copious.” John Rogner, assistant director of the DNR, told one TV station that the goal was to make the fish sound more attractive, like something you would want for dinner. “Enjoying copi in a restaurant or at home is one of the easiest things people can do to help protect our waterways and Lake Michigan,” said John Goss, former White House invasive carp adviser.

Changing names to market fish is nothing new. Orange roughy was once called slimehead, not a name to inspire diners. Patagonian toothfish, formerly considered a “trash fish” and thrown back, took the world’s gourmet restaurants by storm—after it was renamed Chilean sea bass in 1977. This isn’t even the first attempt at rebranding carp. Chef Philippe Parola trademarked the name “silverfin” in 2009 to market his carp fishcakes.

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In fact, the fish formerly known as Asian carp in this country is marketed as “Mississippi whitefish” in China, where U.S.-caught carp, a highly prized delicacy, commands a higher premium than native Chinese carp. Officials say between 20 million and 50 million pounds of carp can be harvested each year from the Illinois River alone.

Beyond marketing, political considerations played a part in the rebranding. There had been discussion of changing the carp’s name for years, due to concerns about offending Asians. In 2014, a measure was passed in the Minnesota legislature renaming Asian carp as “invasive carp,” but stalled. This April the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed the fish’s designation to “invasive carp.” The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, representing agencies in the U.S. and Canada that are trying to contain the carp, will change the name likewise August 2, according to Charlie Wooley, regional director for the Midwest region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other wildlife organizations are quietly changing names that some consider offensive, including the Entomological Society of America, which this year dropped “gypsy moth” and “gypsy ant” from its insect list.

But the renaming is mostly about breaking the association Americans make between copi and the native common carp, whose muddy taste is off-putting. There have been several previous campaigns to get U.S. diners to eat more carp, but most of the harvested carp in this country ends up as fish meal. Chefs say the taste of copi is not only cleaner, but the fish has more health benefits than some popular fish like tilapia.

The carp were originally imported from Asia by farmers in the southern U.S. to help clean algae out of ponds. There are four varieties: silver, bighead, grass and black. Storms and floods washed them into the river system, where they quickly bred and aggressively outcompeted native fish for food and resources. The Corps of Engineers is in the beginning stages of building a series of barriers at Brandon Road to keep the carp—excuse me, copi—out of Lake Michigan, that could cost a quarter of a billion dollars or more.

Not all states are on board with the re-naming. A Missouri spokesperson said the state’s Department of Conservation will not be adopting the new moniker. But the state is also trying to get more Americans to eat more copi.

Time will tell if copi becomes the new Chilean sea bass.