Why you should care
It’s a win for Asian carp-infested lakes … and for Fido.
Asian carp may be aquatic creatures, but this doesn’t stop them from flying. Well, actually, they launch themselves out of the Mississippi River and Illinois waterways and straight into fishing boats — and the faces of unlucky fishermen. The invasive species can measure up to 5 feet and weigh up to 100 pounds, and their heads are rock hard to the touch. That’s like being hit with more than a dozen bricks.
Breaking jaws isn’t their only danger. Asian carp — introduced in the Midwest in the 1960s as a solution for algae overgrowth — are fast-breeding, have hearty appetites (they eat 40 to 80 percent of their body weight each day) and are starting to eliminate native species. Plus, as they continue to rapidly spread throughout the Midwest’s natural water sources, they “have the potential to disrupt food webs on the Great Lakes, impacting the $7 billion annual fishing economy,” says Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates.
Efforts to stop the invasion have included commercial fishing for human consumption (which hasn’t taken off yet, despite many efforts) and blocking canals, but one company has launched a one-of-a-kind solution. Founded in 2015 by their self-described “(not as furry) team,” Michael Cody and Logan Honeycutt, BareItAll Petfoods churns the catapulting fish into pet treats.
The pair were longtime friends and pet owners who also had studied the invasive species in an academic capacity. Both were ready to start a new venture, and during a fishing trip when they saw Asian carp destruction firsthand, it clicked. “It’s a delicious fish, but it does have that negative connotation. We figured pets were not nearly as picky,” says Cody. It’s high in omega-3s and protein, and unlike other sources of aquatic protein, doesn’t contain mercury. Forester, who has tried the fish, describes it as “flaky and firm.”
[The Fillet Bits] are intended for cats but, “dogs go crazy for all the cat treats.”
Michael Cody, BareItAll Petfoods co-founder
In 2015, BareItAll Petfoods — a name that reflects the company’s aim of being transparent about product ingredients –- was born and debuted its first dog treat, the goBARE Crunchers ($9.99). While Cody explains it “took a few iterations to get the formula right,” people really liked the concept from the start, and around 10,000 packages sold in the first few months. Next, they expanded to other dog and cat treats with names like Nibblers, Crisps and River Bites. Some are plain carp and others have additional ingredients, and some are baked and others are freeze-dried. The most popular treat is the Fillet Bits, morsels of freeze-dried Asian carp. They’re intended for cats but, “dogs go crazy for all the cat treats,” says Cody. Plus, if the furry friends’ owners get hungry, the Fillet Bits taste the most like human food — at least according to Cody who has tried them all.
BareItAll sources their carp from fishermen directly and a nonprofit called Silver Fin Solutions and combines it with other ingredients like blueberries and sweet potatoes. They go by what Cody calls the pantry principle: “If it’s not something we’d find in our own home we wouldn’t put it in our dog treats,” Cody explains.
Lesley Pahs, who lives in Cincinnati, likes that the snacks are made with natural ingredients. Her dog Opa, an elderly black Lab mix, has joint issues. Pahs likes to give him the fishy treats because of the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s. “Lord only knows what’s in the stuff at the pet store,” she says. Opa can’t pick a favorite, so Pahs orders him the snack pack ($26.99) of all three dog treats.
So, will feeding your animal Asian carp treats really reduce the infestation? Forester says the best solution is a combination of efforts, and “starting with pet food is a great way to introduce the idea of using carp for protein.” Since BareItAll began they’ve been able to remove about 100,000 pounds of the fish. There were an estimated 3.1 million pounds of Asian carp in the lower reaches of the Illinois River alone in 2016, according to federal estimates.
Eradicating the Asian carp problem is a “pipe dream,” according to some researchers. Still, finding ways to eat the problem is a step in the right direction. “Every carp that is removed decreases the number of carp that are migrating upstream to Minnesota’s waters, and we are grateful,” says Forester.
And if fewer flying fish mean more dog and cat treats? That can’t be a bad thing, right?
Watch Asian carp fling themselves at fishermen in the Illinois River:
More: BareItAll Petfoods
- How to buy: The treats are sold in locations across Illinois, Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — including shops like Hollywood Feed, whose store locations often coincide with Asian carp infestation areas. There’s also an online shop.
- Cost: Prices range from $6.99 to $11.99 for a package, depending on the type. A goBARE snack pack of three retails for $26.99. BareItAll also partners with various animal welfare nonprofits and donates a portion of their profits.
- Learn more about Asian carp: The Asian Carp Newsroom gives updates on legislation, prevention and progress.