Like many Chinese families, Angie Yu grew up eating Asian carp. Now she’s trying to convince Kentuckians to do the same.
Yu is the founder and owner of Two Rivers Fisheries in far western Kentucky. And for the last decade, she’s been exporting millions of pounds of invasive Asian carp to countries like China, where the fish makes for a common family meal.
Before the pandemic, Yu was selling 6 million pounds of Kentucky’s Asian carp, and as much as 90% of the fish went to export.
“Just like in the U.S., you eat chicken right? In China, we eat carp,” Yu said.
Yu said carp has been one of the most common sources of protein for many families because it’s cheap, abundant and nutritious. But decades of overfishing in places like the Yangtze River, have made the fish harder to come by in China.
Fish populations are in decline all over the world from a combination of overfishing, habitat loss and human-caused climate change, according to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These declines will put pressure on world food supplies in the coming decades.
Coincidentally, another man-made problem had made Asian carp abundant in Kentucky. There are four different species of Asian carp ravaging Kentucky waterways, out-competing local fish. Silver carp get a lot of attention for their habit of jumping into people’s boats, but there are also bighead, black and grass carp.
Each of the four species have the ability to produce over 1 million eggs per large adult each year, so far outstripping all efforts to control the species in the state. They’ve tried electrofishing, bow fishing and traditional Chinese techniques, but none have so far effectively curbed the problem.
Recently, Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White pushed to stop one program for removing carp because of the lack of results, according to the Waterways Journal Weekly.
Where others have seen problems, Yu of Two Rivers Fisheries sees a profit. Now, Yu is increasingly looking to change appetites in Appalachia. As much as 60% of her business is local, and she’s looking to expand with an array of value-added products: sausages, ground meat, dumplings and fish cakes.
Yu says there’s potential for a broader industry in Kentucky, one that creates jobs while reducing populations of invasive Asian carp in Kentucky waterways.
If Kentuckians want to eat local, they should start with the lakes where there is actually an abundant, sustainable supply of fish.
“It’s a good fish. It [has] nutritious value. It’s very good. We should eat it. Kentucky, we should eat it because we are close to the river. The fish is in our hometown,” Yu said.