Schafer Fisheries is a proud, family-run company. As the nation’s largest freshwater fishery, they proudly catch, process and sell up to 15 million pounds of Asian carp a year, among other species. Their mission is not only to provide premium nutrition by fishing Asian carp, but to protect the rivers that are their livelihoods from an over-reproducing menace.
Mike: I'm Mike Schafer, Schafer Fisheries. I'm the president of the corporation. We've been in business since 1955. We're the largest freshwater fishery in America dealing in the Asian carp species. We distribute nationwide and worldwide. We're in 16 countries. We have done a lot of R&D on the Asian carp including all different ways of preparing it.
RL: Thanks for speaking with us today, Mike. In your expert opinion, what’s the state of the fishing industry today?
Mike: When we're talking about fish species, the population is down in the oceans. Even the salmon harvest is way off from what it used to be, so something is happening in our environment to where the fish are not reproducing like they used to. So to me, the freshwater fish species is very desirable.
RL: How did you get into selling Asian carp?
Mike: We sold Asian carp long before they were even a problem. The release of the fish into our river systems occurred in the great flood of ‘93, and then it took several years before they were actually in any mass quantities to where they were marketable.
RL: You said Asian carp were a problem. What do you mean by that?
Mike: Well, Asian carp are a problem that can be managed through harvests, but the problem is they're spreading out all over the United States. They're basically in all of the river systems nationwide now except for maybe far west, but even up into the upper Missouri system up into Montana and they're below the dams there. So it's not just a problem specifically to Illinois or the Illinois River.
RL: Why are Asian carp so plentiful?
Mike: Well, they're a very prolific spawner. They spawn up to six times a year, so they reproduce very rapidly and they grow very rapidly. They are a strictly vegetarian fish, though. They eat phytoplankton as their diet. You can't get anything better than a vegetarian for a fish in my opinion.
RL: What’s it like out there for your Asian carp fisherman?
Mike: Well, when you're out harvesting them, they get agitated very easily by noise, so when the fishermen are out fishing for them, it's actually dangerous. They get bombarded by these fish flying at them at 35 miles an hour. There's been a lot of people knocked out of boats and they’ve even people found boats without anybody in them.
RL: People fishing other species of fish can’t find enough of them these days. The story’s got to be different with one of your catches.
Mike: An average harvest is somewhere between five and 10,000 pounds of fish a day. And we harvest between 10 and 15 million pounds a year of Asian carp.
RL: That’s impressive! And contrary to what a lot of people think, Asian carp are not bottom feeders, are they?
Mike: That's not true at all. They're not a bottom-feeder. They're a surface, or what they call a midriff feeder, because that's where the food source is. Most plankton is available at the top or middle.
RL: How does Asian carp stack up to other fish species nutritionally?
Mike: The Asian carp has nutritional values that are really second to none. The only thing higher in omega proteins and fatty acids is salmon.
RL: How does Asian carp taste?
Mike: The Asian carp is a very mild-tasting fish like a cod or a pollock. It takes seasoning very well, so no matter how you prepare it, it's very good eating.
RL: Any final thought you’d like to leave us with, Mike?
Mike: When it comes to Asian carp, I think the biggest help for the ecosystem would be focusing on pet food. I don't know if we're ever gonna change the mindset of the American people as far as eating Asian carp, but I think the real story behind this would be sustainability, nutritional values, and also the fact that we’re helping prevent the spread of an invasive species in the United States.