An Australian company that harvests and processes carp for Asian and European food markets will open its first U.S. facility in Wabasha Friday.
Keith Bell and his wife, Cate, have set their eyes on Minnesota's common carp — one of the most damaging aquatic invasive species in the state, but a food staple halfway around the world.
"That's a bottom-feeding fish. It basically sucks on the bottom of the roots of plants, disturbs the water beds and makes the water dirty," Keith Bell said.
The common carp is a relative of the silver carp, the kind that is known to jumps out of the water and strike boaters in the head, and has the potential to wreck havoc on Minnesota fisheries.
Bell doesn't plan to harvest the silver carp — at least not yet.
But for nearly three decades, his company, K&C Fisheries based in Victoria, Australia, has harvested various species of this oily freshwater fish, and he says while the common carp may not be popular on menus in the U.S., it's a widely-eaten staple in Eastern Europe and Asia.
"In China it's all steamed and goes into a main meal with vegetables," Bell said. "In Poland, in Europe, it's put into cans with vegetables and eaten as a canned food like that, or baked for Christmas dinner.
Bell says the 1,600 square-foot Wabasha facility will have six employees. He expects to process 600 tons of common carp his first year.
"It's pretty exciting. It's something that 12 months ago wasn't even in our wildest dreams, by any means," Bell said. "But we saw an opportunity and we saw where we could help, and we believe it's better for us, for the environment and the people around us."
Bell said he began exploring the upper Mississippi River as an area to grow his business after several years of drought in Australia made it difficult to harvest carp there.
He will work with two local fishermen to harvest the carp from the river.
The common carp is native to Europe and Asia and was intentionally introduced into Midwest waters as a game fish in the 1880s, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
But the fish's abundance makes it dangerous because it disrupts shallow plants and releases phosphorus that increases algae growth.