Gordon Food Service sells Asian carp products

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – The Michigan Department of Natural Resources disagrees with the Asian carp’s renaming, but one of West Michigan’s largest foodservice companies is buying .

Officials with Gordon Food Service confirmed that the company is working to find a supplier to sell Asian carp products.

“That’s good. That’s great. I might put it in front of you tomorrow and say, ‘Hey, try that fishcake.’ And you would think it was a sweet white fish,” Kelly Smallegan-Maas of GFS told News 8.

Asian carp – an invasive species in the United States that is threatens to decimate the Great Lakes ecosystem — is the most consumed freshwater fish in the world. It has been cultivated in China for centuries. But for some reason, American consumers have never tried it.

Last month, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources officially changed the name of Asian carp in an attempt to change the stigma around the fish’s name. Common carp are bottom feeders that taste particularly muddy. The four different species identified as Asian carp are superior feeders and have a light taste that pairs well with different types of marinades and spices. The new name — to copy – is short for hearty, an apt name given that Asian carp now dominate the Mississippi River system, including some aquatic environments where they make up 70% of the ecosystem’s fish population. The Illinois DNR wants to curb the population by encouraging anglers to target the fish and get people to eat it.

Smallegan-Maas is the Director of North American Brands for Gordon Food Services. She said her team had been researching Asian carp products for over a year now and were confident consumers would buy in.

“(It’s) totally malleable, can bend to any flavor profile,” she said of Asian carp. “I tried it in a southwestern style. I tried it more like an Asian blend, a kind of Italian cake and it paired well with all of those culinary and spice profiles.

Asian carp, now called copi by the state of Illinois in an effort to make fish a trendier food option, is very popular in other parts of the world. It is the most consumed freshwater fish in the world and has been farmed for centuries in China. (Courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources)

Taste aside, she thinks American consumers will be drawn to the health benefits of copi. It ranks second to wild salmon in protein content and is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Since they mainly eat plankton and vegetation, they have little to no mercury or lead.

“It’s just a good product,” Smallegan-Maas said.

GFS does not currently offer any copy products. Smallegan-Maas said it will take time for more fishing companies to start targeting fish and aligning themselves with a processor to develop recipes. She expects the first product to be not fillets, but rather a form of fishcake made from Asian carp.

“It’s a very difficult fish to market. And the reason is that it’s a very, very bony fish, full of little bones. And so that makes it extremely laborious and difficult to fillet like you would other fish,” Smallegan-Maas said. “That’s been one of the challenges we’ve focused on, finding a foodservice production process that maintains the integrity of the fish, reduces the best amount of waste possible, and makes it cost effective.”

Copi sliders were sold at an Illinois restaurant to recognize the Illinois DNR’s efforts to rebrand Asian carp as a healthy and tasty choice for diners. (Courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources)

She says it’s not just about selling a profitable product. GFS believes the company can play a role in the fight against invasive species.

“We are food people. We support the idea of ​​being able to eat an invasive species and what that means to the culinary community and what that means to the Great Lakes,” Smallegan-Maas said.

Asian carp products are part of a program called GoodFinds. It’s a GFS program committed to finding farmers and foods that go above and beyond to help people and the planet.

“We see ourselves as part of that equation,” she said.

Following the announcement of the copi, the Michigan DNR told News 8 he disagreed with the name change. He supports the idea of ​​encouraging people to eat the fish, but fears the name change will sow confusion and make it more likely that Asian carp will end up in the Great Lakes.

“We don’t want to see people bringing live fish to Michigan,” Joanne Foreman of Michigan’s Invasive Species Program DNR told News 8. It might be a good thing to store these fish so they can sell them fresh themselves, so it’s really important to draw the line that the name change still doesn’t change Michigan’s live fish ban.

There are several restrictions in place to try to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, including the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Illinois. The US Army Corps of Engineers is working on a project to extend and strengthen barriers to keep them out.

“Ultimately, what we’re looking for isn’t just a way to slow down the Asian carp population. We would really like to eradicate the fish and it will take time and a lot of science to get there,” Foreman said. “I’ve heard the phrase used, ‘If you can’t beat them, eat them.’ We don’t want to give up the fight against invasive carp We believe we still need funding to support the Brandon Road Lock and Dam Project. We are looking to build additional barriers and use new technologies to prevent these fish from entering the Great Lakes.

Smallegan-Maas believes the name change can still be effective and continue the fight to protect the Great Lakes.

“We want to tell the culinary community that this is our chance to do good with food,” Smallegan-Maas said. “We want to preserve these resources and we want to preserve the diversity of species in these waterways. (We want to be) part of the solution, but there are many tools in the toolbox.

There is currently no deadline for when Copi products will be available for purchase through GFS.

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