SOUTH DEERING — Its texture is like chicken, and the flavor wavers between tuna and trout. Once it’s smoked, you wouldn’t even know it’s the invasive species that’s trolled Illinois’ waterways for years.
But thank to a rebranding effort by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, detrimental Asian carp has a new name — copi — and it is hitting fish markets and restaurants across the state.
Ready to try it out? Some Chicago locations are serving it.
“The new name and brand are designed to address public misconceptions about this delicious top-feeding fish, which is overrunning Midwest waterways,” according to a Department of Natural Resources news release.
The made-up name copi is short for “copius,” a nod to the massive swaths of invasive fish experts have fought to keep at bay for years.
The carp were imported from Southeast Asia to clean algae from fish farm retention ponds in southern states. But they found their way up the Mississippi River after escaping during floods.
The intruders have posed a threat to Lake Michigan by out-competing native species for food and space, so state officials have schemed for decades how to thwart them, including setting up electrified barriers along their path north.
The latest campaign intends to rebrand the fish’s well-known, infamous name into something people might want to have for dinner. Goodbye, invasive Asian carp. Hello, unfamiliar and potentially intriguing copi.
“By one estimate, 20 million to 50 million pounds of copi could be harvested from the Illinois River alone each year, with hundreds of millions more in waterways from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast,” according to the Department of Natural Resources.
At famed Calumet Fisheries, 3259 E. 95th St., copi is being smoked to serve.
“[We] gotta help each other out. I feel like us doing this, we’re doing good for the lake,” said Ivan Huerta, assistant manager at Calumet Fisheries.
Copi branding was visible around the fish shop Thursday, a day after the rebranding campaign began. Betty Washington was making her way to the restaurant’s door when she heard about copi.
At first, Washington said she wouldn’t try it because of Asian carp’s reputation — but she was surprised to hear of its finer flavors.
Washington was steadfast in her mission, though.
“I came really to get me some smelts,” Washington said.
Jack Eaves, waiting for his order of smoked sable inside the shop, said he would definitely dine on copi, as he wants to play a role in “helping [Mother Nature] out.”
Prince King, stopping by for shrimp, pondered the fish’s new name and wondered if more people would start to fish for copi once they know of its flavors and negative impact on the ecosystem.
Those who want to try copi can find it sliced, smoked, seared and served up at various restaurants, fish markets, distributors and more. All are listed on a state website.
“It’s a local fish,” Huerta said, noting it’s not like a farm-grown or flown-in cut served at restaurants. He’s hoping it’ll hit the shop’s displays by Saturday.
At Calumet Fisheries, copi is smoked the same as the salmon and sable: almost all day long in the adjacent shack.
Huerta hopes the fish’s stigma will lift as sales begin.
“Some people are gonna be confused with copi, but once they try them out and they really like the taste, they’ll like it,” he said.
And what would the fish pair well with?
“Me personally, I would definitely crack a beer,” Huerta said. “For sure a beer, along with some french fries or something.”
Here’s a list of Chicago spots selling copi:
- Herb, 5424 N. Broadway
- Ina Mae Tavern, 1415 N. Wood St.
- Mole Village Restaurant, 2302 S. Blue Island Ave.
- Gaijin, 950 W. Lake St.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: