Gov. Matt Bevin visited West Kentucky Community and Technical College Tuesday to announce a first-of-its-kind entrepreneurial contract as a means of attacking the Asian carp infestation that plagues lakes and rivers in western Kentucky.
Kentucky's first fish house contract went to Kentucky Fish Center LLC of Wickliffe, which will expand the market for Kentucky-caught Asian carp.
Angie Yu, the operator of the Two Rivers Fisheries fish processing company of Wickliffe, will own and operate the Kentucky Fish Center.
Asian carp caught in Kentucky will be sold by the center in daily auctions open to any interested buyers. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources will oversee the auctions.
Secretary Don Parkinson of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet was one of several state officials on hand for the announcement. He said the decision will help rid Kentucky waters of an invasive species that preys on food used by fish that are native to this area like bass and crappie.
"(Yu) is going to buy fish that come in from fishermen," he said. "We need to support the creation of a much bigger fish industry here. We're getting about 2 million pounds a year now; we need 5 million in two years, and in five years, we're going to have 20 million. If you don't start getting fish out on that scale, it's going to overrun these lakes.
"It's a different approach. It's not government doing it; it is, in fact, a partnership with an entrepreneur. (Yu) has been in this business for 15 years doing different kinds of fish processing. This is a different venture entirely. She runs a great operation; she'll be a great partner. We're very optimistic."
An advertisement from Two Rivers Fisheries in Tuesday's Paducah Sun seeking local fishers to catch the fish offers $5,000 or more per month, a sign-up bonus and a free F-150 pickup truck bonus for those who bring in 1 million pounds of Asian carp in a year. There is also a need for workers in the processing plant.
More information about fishing for Two Rivers Fisheries can be found by calling 270-335-5488. The company website, tworiversfisheries.com, shows the many ways the company uses Asian carp.
"People are already starting to call us," said Lining He, Two Rivers Fisheries vice president of development. "We do need sustainable large amounts of fish taken out of our rivers so we can (sell) it as a sustainable product."
"We are processors and exporters of Asian carp," Yu said. "We have processed almost 8 million pounds since the start, from 2013 until now. We are the biggest Asian carp exporter in the states."
Yu and He said that Asian carp have several food uses and the waste can be used as organic fertilizer.
"There is a lot of potential," He said. "Right now, we are using it as frozen fish, the basic product. Next, we are working on ground meat. From there, you can do hamburgers, sausage, sandwiches - that type of thing.
"Over the next couple of years, we will have a full operation covering the frozen fish, processing and reprocessed products as well as the organic fertilizer."
He said Asians have lived on Asian carp for thousands of years.
State Sen. Danny Carroll said the contract would be "instrumental in addressing the issue" of the prolific Asian carp problem.
"I hear remarks about (Asian carp) all the time, especially over in Marshall County in my district," he said. "I've known of these plans for a while that the state was looking at to increase the harvest. The structure they're looking at to make this happen makes perfect sense.
"The governor's point today is that there is some incentive now to get fishermen involved in this. I think the ingenuity for this process will come from them; they will figure it out. They will figure out better ways to harvest, better ways to get the fish to the various points to be unloaded. It is in the initial stages, and I think it will evolve as we move forward and is going to be good for our area. ... Ignoring this problem is just not an option."
Jessica Morris, a fisheries biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said her department is "very hopeful" the fish house contract increases the number of Asian carp harvested from Kentucky lakes and rivers.
"Over time and in combination with putting up barriers at the lock and dam structures, it could definitely have an impact," she said.