Asian carp processing plant may be a reality for area

Jeanette Kendall TimesNewspapers
Depending on the processing plant, an entire Asian carp could be used for resources, including fertilizer. There would be no waste such as this left over fish during an Asian carp cooking demonstration at Dixon Fisheries in East Peoria in March.

A group of business people from China will soon visit East Peoria for a tour.

Ty Livingston, the city’s director of community development, along with Rick Swan, director of the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce, will be the tour guides.

The group from China was in East Peoria looking at possible locations for an Asian carp processing plant.

Interest in this area may have sparked from some international conferences in Chicago about Asian carp.

“Of course with the Asian carp being in the river and being moved to those Great Lakes, there’s been a lot of interest in that. Obviously, they don’t want that fish in the Great Lakes,” Swan said. “With the international people being in the Chicago area, they’ve heard about this.”

“When you look at the whole United States, there’s been such a concentration on this area about the Asian carp, and I think that’s how they landed on that, too,” Swan added.

Swan said they have been contacted by “several Asian business groups that have expressed interest in this area to start up a processing center.”

Livingston said that John Hamann, rural economic development director with Peoria County, has also done a lot regionally to get the word out there.

“There are a lot of players in this,” Livingston said.

East Peoria is not the only community thinking about these plans.

CI News Now reported that Henry is also in the mix.

“There’s a significant amount of interest in identifying the best way to harvest this fish and utilize it as a resource,” Livingston said, adding that talks are in the early stages. 

Referring to the visitors from China, Livingston said, “These folks are reaching out to area fisherman to find the best way to get that labor force ramped up so that you can harvest them.”

Livingston said there are opportunities all up and down the Peoria river, but the focus seems to be on the Peoria area 

due to the concentration of the carp here.

“At this point the processing kind of runs the gamut. It’s everything from just bringing the fish in to flash freezing it to a more robust operation that would do some sort of cooking process or some sort of grinding the entire fish into fish powder,” Livingston said.

Before the type of operation model can be decided upon, there are other considerations, such as location.

East Peoria is an attractive spot for a processing plant, Swan said, because of its proximity to the Illinois River and the interstate.

“We also have rail facilities that would help in shipping the product,” Swan said, adding that trucking and air freight are also possible.

Barge transportation is another prospect, Livingston said.

“If there was some sort of bulk product that could be produced that wasn’t shelf stable for only a certain couple of days, that might be a potential with barge,” he said.

Swan said it is his understanding that Asian carp cannot be harvested in China, where it is considered a delicacy. The fish could be processed here, frozen and sent back to China in a variety of forms, such as fish sticks, like an imitation crab meat and fish powder.

In December, Livingston visited Schafer Fisheries, a fish processing plant in Thomson, where they are dabbling with Asian carp.

“They do take in local fish and process them. They’ve kind of dabbled in this Asian carp market. They have products that range from what they call value added, which could be everything from fish hot dogs to jerky to smoked carp dip,” Livingston said.

There is also a fertilizer facility in Thomson.

“They take the remains of the fish and create a very highly concentrated fertilizer mixture,” Livingston said.

In addition to food products and fertilizer, a new fish processing plant would also create jobs.

“If it can bring in 150 jobs, that’s great,” Swan said.

“It’s a renewable resource is what it is,” Livingston said.

Livingston said they want to make sure a processing plant would be a good fit for East Peoria. 

“When you start getting into the details of the location ... we want to make sure that we’ve got something that’s a good fit for them.”

“There are a number of players working on this issue. It’s a regional economic development issue, and in East Peoria, we’re certainly looking to play our part.”

Swan said they need to determine what the demands of the operation would be from water, sewage and transportation.

“They’re going to make a decision to who best fits all those needs,” Swan said.

Livingston said that all indications are that a processing plant will be built in this region.

“If they’re coming out of the Illinois River, a facility really needs to be close by,” he said.

Havana, Pekin and Peoria are other towns that Swan and Livingston said they have heard are expressing interest in a fish processing plant. It is not known if there will be more than one plant.

“I think Morton’s even expressed (interest). I think anybody that could pick up 125-150 jobs right now would entertain it,” Swan said.

“Each community’s going to be limited by their available inventory,” Livingston said.