If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em

The State of Illinois is proposing a solution to its carp problem.

To some folks, it might sound like a fishy version of making lemonade out of lemons. Frankly, I think it is a fishy plan.

But before we discuss the proposal, we should describe the problem, which has been growing for nearly 50 years. It started in the 1970s when Asian Carp were introduced to ponds in the United States to keep them clean. Carp, you see, are voracious eaters and voracious reproducers. (By the way, there are actually four species lumped into the “Asian” category: bighead, silver, black, and grass.)

The carp weren’t a problem until the 1990s when floods in the Mississippi basin covered many of the carp-dwelling ponds and released the hungry fish into rivers where nobody wanted them. They soon became a threat to indigenous fish by eating their food sources and, in some cases, their eggs and young.

Soon, places I’ve been known to cast a line with a hook were teaming with the invasive carp; The Mississippi River, Rock River, and Illinois River are full of the swimming critters. In fact, if you are fishing on the Rock River in Illinois and put a line in the water with a worm on a hook, it is difficult NOT to catch an Asian Carp. And because the Silver Carp like to jump out of the water, you best pay attention when driving a boat or you can get fish-smacked in the face.

Needless to say, Asian Carp have become a problem in Illinois. The government even built an electric barrier on the Illinois River to keep the fish out of Lake Michigan. Sadly, carp appear to be smarter than government experts and continue to multiply and invade.

This is where the new proposal comes in; give carp a new name and convince people they are good to eat. If diners go ga-ga for carp, the other fish will be spared.

The new name is Copi, derived from copious.

“Copi is a great name: Short, crisp, and easy to say. What diner won’t be intrigued when they read Copi tacos or Copi burgers on a menu?” Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Colleen Callahan said in a statement. “It’s a tasty fish that’s easy to work with in the kitchen and it plates beautifully. Every time we’ve offered samples during the Illinois State Fair, people have walked away floored by how delicious it is.”

Perhaps if you cook a Copi just right, it will be tasty. But to torture Shakespeare, a carp by any other name is still a carp. I have serious doubts that gourmets will flock to the fish counter at Caputo’s and demand Copi.

But I could be wrong. There is a history of success in making a fish palatable by giving it a trendy name. You may have enjoyed a meal of Chilean Sea Bass at one of your favorite fine-dining establishments. However, what you are eating is actually a Patagonian Toothfish.

Of course, the two situations are not identical.  In the case of the fishermen of Chile, they have a really delicious fish that had a bad name. In Illinois, we have a not-so-tasty fish with a name that suggests it should be avoided.

It is going to be interesting to see if Copi turns up on menus across Chicago. Maybe someone will open a chain of Copi Cafes.

If this happens, I have a few other suggestions for renaming bothersome things in Illinois.

  • People spend a fortune every summer trying to eradicate dandelions from their lawns. Let’s change their name to Salad Saints and encourage homeowners to take out the tasteless grass and plant the Salad Saints food crop.
  • Thistles are a thorn in the side of every gardener. Let’s change the name to Purple Pleasure and hold flowers and give prizes for the prickliest Purple Pleasure plants.
  • Coyotes have started to roam the Chicago suburbs. People are afraid they will attack small dogs, perhaps even children. But they also help reduce the population of garden-eating rabbits. So, let’s give the coyote a new name: Native Hare Hound.
  • Mosquitos are universally hated and are the target of a wide range of eradication programs. But no matter what we do, they persist. They really need a new name: Summer Hummer.

Rebranding can be successful. It can even lead to multiple uses of an existing item.

For example, baking soda was created for, logically, baking. However, it can be used to deodorize your refrigerator, clean your oven, or refresh your tennis shoes.

Listerine is a popular mouthwash. But it originally was developed as a surgical antiseptic. It also functioned as a floor cleaner and, later, a cure for bad breath.

Clearly, a new name and improved image can make for a better fate for all sorts of things, even a fish. Time will tell if people think a Copi tastes better than a carp.

As for me, I’ll be happy to catch ‘em but I won’t eat ‘em.

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