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Video: From pest to profit?

NBC News with Brian Williams
By Kevin Tibbles Correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/23/2006 9:39:19 PM ET 2006-11-24T02:39:19

It's the start of a new day for commercial fishermen Orion Briney and stepson Jeremy on the Illinois River. Several years ago, as the pair was hauling their usual catch, something else turned up in the net.

"We thought it was a big trout or something," says Briney. "We didn't know what we had."

Their river was filling up with slimy, ugly, Asian carp: A voracious invader from the Far East that's eating its way through America's waterways, pushing out the native fish, and wreaking havoc.

Boat motors startle the fish, making them jump. So Orion Briney had an idea: If you can't beat them, why not eat them?

"People think you're crazy when you tell them there are just acres of them laying out there!" says Briney.

He now pulls about 20,000 pounds of the Piscean pests out of the river each week, and he sells them, for food. Briney earned $200,000 last year.

The Asian carp may have seized the waters, but this new breed of fisherman is seizing the opportunity, reeling in a profit, and helping the environment at the same time.

Carp may not be on the menu at many five-star restaurants, but it is an ethnic staple. Mike Schafer processed 2 million pounds of it for Asian-American markets last year alone. He now wants the rest of America to nibble.

"We've made it into taco meat already, and hot dogs and we've smoked it," says Schafer.

He's even made carp jerky!

And if people are dining on carp, the carp aren't dining on the food native fish eat.

"It's bringing down the population of Asian carp, where our other fish will stand a better chance," says Kevin Irons, an ecologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey.

And in the process, fishermen like Orion Briney say they're doubling their income — and that's no fish tale.

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