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Entrepreneur’s vision: A carp cooperative

Entrepreneur’s vision: A carp cooperative

Posted: Friday, April 16, 2010 9:08 pm

By JOHN BRANNON
Staff Reporter
A former California attorney wants to establish a $20 million “Carp Catchers Cooperative” at the Cates Landing riverport near Tiptonville.
Jim Miller of Cecilia, Ky., has asked the Northwest Tennessee Riverport Authority to sell or lease to him 10 to 15 acres to build a shipyard and three wooden ships to harvest Asian carp that have become a “serious problem” for American waterways.
“They are voracious eaters. They eat 20 to 40 percent of their body weight a day in algae and plant plankton and zoo plankton, which is animal plankton,” he said. “They are decimating our native fish.”
Both the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Fisheries Division, Kentucky Department of Natural Resources, are concerned about the burgeoning threat of the fish to native game fish.
The State of Illinois and the federal government are trying to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes.
Miller is president of a fisheries business with the unlikely name of Mutual Aid Society of America Inc. He said the company is still in the “pre-startup stage.”
“My previous title is ‘recovering attorney’,” he said.
He asserts he is a graduate of Stanford School of Law, Class of 1959. In private practice, he specialized in real estate and business and eminent domain. He was county counsel for Imperial County, Calif., four years and deputy county counsel of San Diego County, five.
“In my retirement years, I’m (reinventing) myself as a fisher/marine engineer,” he said. “I have a degree in agricultural engineering. I’m fairly comfortable in this new role.”
In his April 3 letter to Jimmy Williamson, chairman of Northwest Tennessee Riverport Authority, Miller lists 10 goals to be met in order to establish a “home port” for the carp cooperative. One of them is that the port authority must be capable of issuing industrial revenue bonds and other assistance for the economic development of the venture.
“Specifically, we will need a written contract by which we can acquire a shipyard location (subject to conditions) and a resolution by your board of intent to issue industrial revenue bonds in support of establishment of the shipyard …
“With the contract and resolution in hand, we can then truly represent that we have a ‘home port’ which will support the large-scale commercial solution to the Asian Carp invasion problem …”
Here are the basics of Miller’s plan:
• The name of the Asian carp would be changed to “Silverfin” for marketing purposes. Commercial customers would include outlets in China. “The Chinese just love them, and there’s a guy in Iowa that has a restaurant which serves 30,000 pounds of carp sandwiches a month.”
And these are not the common carp, the bottom-feeder, he says. They are the “top-feeder” high quality carp. “Don’t confuse the two. It’s the difference between eating mud and eating filet mignon. The Asian carp is the filet mignon of our American fresh waterways.”
• The board would lease or sell 10 to 15 acres for Miller to build a shipyard.
• After the shipyard is built, construction would start on three ships. Miller sometimes uses the word “barges.”
Construction of the shipyard and three wooden ships — he says he prefers wooden ships — would take about two years.
“Three barges, all hooked together like a railroad train, going up these rivers, hauling in carp,” he says. “The first boat catches them, the second boat processes them and the third boat is a ‘flotel,’ a ‘floating hotel.’ That’s where the crew would live.”
He even has names for the three ships — the first ship, the harvester, is the “Carp Avenger.” The second ship, “the factory, the processor,” is the “Carpe Carpae,” meaning “seize the carp.” The third ship is the “Carp Ark,” which would have sleeping quarters for 50, a restaurant, a commissary, an entertainment center and a first aid office.
• Like other ventures, funding is a challenge.
“It will cost roughly $20 million,” Miller says. “What I need right off the bat is a $300,000 grant. We need a set of drawings for the shipyard and the three ships. Then we go to the port authority and say we want them to issue revenue bonds to build the shipyard. Then we can go to the federal government and say we need $3 million to build these three ships.
“I need somebody from the port board of directors to say, ‘Yes, we will entertain a contract with you to allocate X-number of acres. … We will extend to you a 50-year lease. And if you get funding for building the ships, we will sell industrial revenue bonds and apply that to construction of the shipyard.”
Miller complains he’s not “heard a word” from Williamson and the port authority board.
Williamson was noncommittal when contacted about Miller’s plan. He said the board will give it due consideration.
Published in The Messenger 4.16.10

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