Catching an opportunity with Asian Carp

By Chad Weber

August 12, 2013 Updated Aug 12, 2013 at 11:03 AM CDT

CHILLICOTHE, Ill. -- You've probably seen videos of them flying and flopping across the river but the Asian carp problem on the Illinois River is causing more than just damage to boaters passing by.

With the fishing industry and the eco-system struggling, two local fisherman have cast their nets towards economic opportunity.

"They're willing to buy millions of dollars worth of these fish, but we have to have a plant," said Greg Dabbs, owner of Fish Juice.

Dabbs is a man with a plan, a plan to make Central Illinois a hub for Asian Carp distribution and production.

Along with his partner Kent Hamm, the two are looking for ways to turn the over-populated and unwanted nuisance into wanted dollar bills.

"Animal protein products for pet food, hog food, chicken food, can also be rendered down to fish oil," said Dabbs.

He said he already has a fertilizer on the market, but his master plan is to develop a production plant with high profit exports like fish meal, caviar, and bio-diesel fuel.

"There is millions of pounds of fish in the river estimated between 3 and 10 million pounds on any given day," said John Hamann, Director of Peoria County Rural economic development. "It's an asset there right below the surface that we think we can put some people to work and create some economic opportunity."

As for the current fishing economy, the carp have pretty much taken it over.

Kent Hamm will tell you, he was just one of many fishermen unable to fish the native species anymore.

"We were catching buffalo, channel cat, selling them to markets," said Hamm. "Well as soon as these things come in, you can't catch enough of them because your nets are full of these."

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Asian Carp account for about 65 percent of fish in the Illinois River.

For Dabb, that's a lot of inventory to sell, and as for all new businesses, the biggest obstacle is funding.

"$300,000 to $1.2 million," said Dabbs. "And we got lucky. We had an angel investor donate a warehouse to us on the riverfront so we can use that."

Dabbs said eventually he envisions a series of plants along the Illinois river pumping out Asian Carp products and reeling in millions of dollars and jobs for the local economy.

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