ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now, a crisis of gefilte fish. The Jewish delicacy is a staple at many Passover Seders; it's coming up in three weeks. It's made of ground fish, often carp, and the vast majority of Israel's Asian carp - believe it or not - comes from Schafer Fisheries in Thompson, Illinois.
But the Israeli government recently reinstated a hefty import tax on the fish, and that has held up almost 400,000 pounds of Schafer's frozen carp.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has gotten involved. She broached the subject with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And today, at least some of the fish has been let into Israel, but far more remains in limbo, forcing Schafer Fisheries to lay off some of its workers.
The owner of Schafer, Mike Schafer, joins us now. And Mr. Schafer, tell us about this tariff. How big is it?
Mr. MIKE SCHAFER (Owner, Schafer's Fisheries Inc.): Oh, the tariff is, from what I understand, 120 percent of the value of the fish. So it's basically around $1.10 a pound tariff on the product.
SIEGEL: And in years past, you were selling carp to Israel and there wasn't a tariff charged on it?
Mr. SCHAFER: Right. For several years, we had no tariff at all. In fact, this really came as a surprise to us. We weren't aware of it, and we were producing large numbers of them and freezing them. So economically, it's impacted us and the factory over in Israel producing gefilte fish.
SIEGEL: And just to understand this, it's the Israeli factory that is preferring to keep the gefilte fish offshore rather than pay that whopping tariff that effectively doubles the cost of it to them?
Mr. SCHAFER: They can't afford that tariff on that product and still be able to sell it to their different stores and outlets, you know?
SIEGEL: Now, in terms of your business, this was a huge chunk of your business, the Israeli gefilte fish trade. What has it done to your workforce? How many people have been idled?
Mr. SCHAFER: I believe at this point, we've laid off nine people. And hopefully we can get this resolved and get back to work.
SIEGEL: Are these the same Asian carp that we read about chucking upstream in the Mississippi and threatening the Great Lakes?
Mr. SCHAFER: Right, exactly. Yeah. The state of Illinois would like to see us step up our fish production on that fish. Last year, we handled little over 12 million pounds of them, and they would like to see us step that up to 36 million for this coming season here now.
SIEGEL: Are you saying in part for environmental reasons they want you to do that or what?
Mr. SCHAFER: Yeah.
Mr. SCHAFER: Yeah, they want to control the population of the fish.
SIEGEL: So here you have a fish, the Asian carp, which we're desperately trying to get out of the Upper Midwest, and the Israelis evidently have been consuming it in gefilte fish all these years.
Mr. SCHAFER: We're trying to get this thing pushed through as a food source for humanitarian food aid, which would be very good.
SIEGEL: In the form of gefilte fish? Or could the carp be processed into some other (unintelligible) fish?
Mr. SCHAFER: No, no. It would just be as a protein source for world hunger. And right now, if you think about Haiti's using over a million pounds a day of imported protein source, there's a huge demand there. And this could be a very viable food source for helping those people, you know?
SIEGEL: Well, yeah, it makes sense. It's...
Mr. SCHAFER: We would put it into a pouch so it doesn't need any refrigeration or anything. It's fully cooked, just open it and eat it.
SIEGEL: Mr. Schafer, thank you very much for talking with us. And good luck with it.
Mr. SCHAFER: All righty.
SIEGEL: Okay, that's Mike Schafer, the proprietor of Schafer Fisheries in Thompson, Illinois, a supplier of the Asian carp that Israelis use to make gefilte fish.
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