August 1, 2022
Photo by Ryan Hagerty, USFWS.

Eat Well, Choose Copi

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By Kathy Andrews Wright

Clint Carter is a central Illinois businessman who spends a fair amount of his time on the Illinois River or at his Springfield-based fish market. But there was the day he spent on the river with Dr. Jackson Gross, Cooperative Extension Aquaculture Specialist University of California Davis, that became a video demonstrating his trade. Or the time it was a crew from Hong Kong filming a video on the process of commercial fishing. He and his staff routinely fill orders at the fish market. Recently, it included a request for a supply of Copi for a chef known for his food-based adventure travel television program.

A man in a bright blue shirt holds a frozen package of minced fish. In the background is some potted plants and a storefront with a sign "Carter's Fish Market."
Photo by Kathy Andrews Wright.

Carter serves as President of the Midwest Fish Cooperative, a group of 12 commercial fishing crews that, in 18 months, pulled 8 million pounds of bighead, silver, grass and black carp from the Peoria Pool of the Illinois River. Today, he joins in the effort to showcase these four invasive species under the banner of “Copi,” and the slogan “Eat Well. Do Good.”

“Copi—a term originating from the copious numbers occurring in our rivers—are freshwater, top-feeding fish originally introduced in the 1970s to filter fishery aquaculture ponds,” explained Kevin Irons, Assistant Chief of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division. “Accidentally released into our waterways, it is now our responsibility to use all available tools (prevention, deterrence, and harvest) to both protect the Great Lakes and Illinois waters.”

Three golden fried fish fillets with two pieces of bread in a styrofoam take away container are resting on top of a table in the sunshine outdoors.
Photo by Kathy Andrews Wright.

Carter and his business partner, Dave Buchanan, prefer to catch 7- to 8-pound fish, utilizing a couple thousand yards of 3.25-inch gill net to capture schools of Copi.

“I view our role as supporting the ecology of the Illinois River,” Carter explained. “Copi will over-consume the small food items in the river that the native fish need to survive. By removing these invasive species, we are enhancing the foods available to our native game fish.”

Nothing goes to waste when processing Copi. Carter hand fillets a boneless strip of meat for sale in the food industry, with the remainder of the fish processed and made into a pet treat.

As top-feeding fish, Copi feed on plankton and are low on the food chain. I had heard that Copi is a mild-flavored, lean freshwater fish and considered savorier than tilapia, cleaner tasting than catfish and less flaky than cod. I can attest to this fact after sampling a fresh-from-the-oil Copi filet Carter prepared for me.

A fish taco with pico de gallo and avocado resting on a cutting board on top of a table.
Copi fresh fish taco recipe from Chef Christopher Koetke. Photo by Alex Garcia.

With years of experience on the Illinois River, Carter is quick to point out one change he has noted in recent years.

“There are some days on the river that you can see 3 feet below the water surface,” he explained. “It is obvious that the approach taken on the overall management of the Illinois River system and the adjacent agricultural lands is working.”

“Americans need to recognize that eating Copi means eating healthy,” Irons said. “Copi is responsibly- and wild-caught, delicious, high in heart-healthy Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids and a great source of protein. By choosing Copi people are eating well. And their choice is doing good for our waters.”

For more on Copi, including sources and recipes, visit https://choosecopi.com.


Kathy Andrews Wright is retired from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources where she was editor of Outdoor Illinois magazine. She is currently the editor of Outdoor Illinois Wildlife Journal and Illinois Audubon magazine.

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