The Illinois River Project seeks to connect unemployed persons where are have been excluded from employment due to criminal histories with ecologically-motivated fishing in the Illinois River region. The targeted invasive species of silver carp offer an abundant opportunities for earning income in a fun and easy manner. The fish are used as compost and clean soil of certain toxins which have been found to cause learning disabilities and violent behavior. Often the soils that are most toxic are in neighborhoods that are most impoverished and racially segregated. With basic building skills, individuals can contribute to society and earn an income while working to fight environmental racism. 

3-Minute Pitch


Stage 1 : Art of Fishing

Prototype #1, "Reproducible At Any Nearby Home Depot Store" (2015) is a boat designed to catch jumping invasive carp using components sourced from a inexpensive components, collectively costing less than $1000.

Prototype #1, "Reproducible At Any Nearby Home Depot Store" (2015) is a boat designed to catch jumping invasive carp using components sourced from a inexpensive components, collectively costing less than $1000.

Carp anglers on on instagram.

Carp anglers on on instagram.

Around 2006 the national spotlight on invasive carp caught our eye. These carp were originally imported to clean up lakes but have escaped and are reproducing at an alarming rate. It's a national issue that looped in locals who are unhappy about their fishing grounds, state agencies, and the federal government who's worried the population of invasive carp will reach the Great Lakes and have a negative effect on the fishing industry there. Because these are invasive fish–bighead and silver carp-usual fishing limits are suspended, so all you need is a fishing license.

Why art?

Art has the ability to bridge specialties like marine biology, penology, industrial history and pedology. It can be useful or just pretty. People like art and we like to make art. The art objects that are being created are functional; each boat is both a sculpture and tool to catch fish. They are also instrumental in funding this project on a larger scale. The instructions and prototypes are available for free and most are made with less than $1000, which includes the price of the boat itself. Materials are common from local hardware stores or things lying around and you don't need to be a genius to build a pretty efficient boat to catch these fish. We are gathering seed funding to start our participants off with the resources they need to be productive and generate income. 

Along the way of researching what design would fix which problem best, models, diagrams and drawings are being created. (If you'd like to see what we're working on, please visit our studio at the ISCP in Brooklyn, NY. ) 

To recommend a participant or sign up to participate in the pilot program this July, please send name, address, a short bio to . We are particularly interested in working with individuals who are unable to work due to criminal histories. 

Learn more about invasive carp


Stage 2 : Compost

A lot of the time we think about nature and humans separately. Compost is a bridge to back to nature. Compost is the product of  controlled decomposition. Because everyone eats and produces food scraps and waste, compost connects our 21st Century lives with natural cycles. If you've looked around online, many people who compost have large outdoor areas because they live in small towns, suburban or rural areas. Yet in the U.S. and many other countries, over 80% of the population lives in cities. (2) Beginning with community gardens in NYC, because that's where we live, we are experimenting with fish and fish meal will be composted in order to clean soil. Cornell, a leading agricultural institution, openly suggests using fish waste for compost. (3) We are testing indoor compost designs. A popular method is to use an insect or worm to breakdown the food scraps more quickly. These are called 'vermicultures'. 

Back to the point about urbanization: the most abundant heavy metal toxin in the soil in the U.S. is lead. (4) We are also very interested in using the fish bones to remediate lead in the soil. Fish bones are high in phosphorous and chemically bond with lead molecules. Human bones doesn't distinguish between calcium and lead, so lead can get absorbed. (5) In fact, we aren't the only ones who are using fish bone to solve the problem of lead, (6) but we are the first to use the bones of the invasive carp.

Compost also gets people outside and into the community gardens, which have a tremendously positive role in the surrounding lives. (7) One of the first obstacles we encountered when thinking about how people could benefit from composting their food scraps is that many cities are just beginning to create programs that can expedite that process. For example, if you have food scraps that you want to compost, you either have to have a worm farm in your apartment or you have to haul it up to a drop-off site that may be pretty far from where you live. In New York, the drop-off sites are expanding and the zones where organic waste is being picked up is also expanding. In the mean time, we are exploring ways to streamline the process for those of us who want to divert our reusable food scraps from landfills. 

Download a composting guide

Learn amore about composting in NYC


Stage 3 : Application

Once the fish waste has been composted we want to take the bones and use them to make soil cleaner for communities and future generations. This is a very ambitious goal but we believe that we aren't alone in wanting to create a better, healthier and cleaner cities and towns to live and work in. From the fisherman out in the Midwest to the city dweller uptown is a long way. So we are building a network of producers and buyers of material to remediate soil of heavy metals. The product we are making will be accessible to individuals and city governments. If your property has a history of heavy metal toxicity, we want to know so we can begin building our network near you. Please email . We want it to be affordable for anyone and we are looking for locations that are interested in receiving our pilot product for Spring 2017. 

Sign up to buy or sell this product to clean your soil on this form

To learn be part of the project, please email me direction via the contact form


Stage 4 : Employment

How can fishing address the problem of mass incarceration in the United States?

We are serious about addressing the problem of imprisonment in this country and are approaching it in an unconventional manner. Rather than thinking about criminals as unethical people, we think of them as a function of their surroundings and how those variables can be improved through scientific data as well as art. There's a lot of literature about prisons and prisoners, (1) but we are focusing on individuals before and their life after incarceration. What are the hurdles that a person faces when they get back out in the real world?

By framing fishing as art and art therapy, the activity of building a boat means skills but also a source of income that can be done without the usual discriminatory background checks that a lot of employers use. The individual can work by fishing as much as he or she wants and whenever he or she wants. When the season gets too cold for fishing the next step (see stage #2 below) offers a winter-friendly activity.

Finding employment is difficult for anyone, but people who've paid their debt to society the search can be almost impossible. Not only is this legal form of discrimination alienating to society's disempowered, it is counter to the very notion of rehabilitative justice. Instead of discriminating against individuals with a criminal history, the Illinois River Project is going to employ those people making them leaders in their community and advocates for their environment. We are seeking hardworking individuals 

To make the cycle explicit, the fisherman who work to catch invasive carp will be producing carp bones that will remediate the lead in soil from communities where environmental injustice is occurring. The labor and energy of these community advocates will break the cycle of disadvantaged people being subject to unhealthy levels of lead, which is known to cause learning disabilities and violent behavior, and potential influence delinquent behavior. Too often, these cycles find their way along racial lines. 

Learn more about Ban the Box



Donald Hải Phú Daedalus

Artist & Director

Donald Hải Phú Daedalus grew up in the shadow of the country's largest public observatory, an area so remote and sparsely populated it served as the first plutonium-processing plant for the Manhattan Project. Shortly after the oldest human remains in North America were discovered near his hometown, Donald attended the University of Washington, where, coincidentally, the remains were held while a decade-long legal dispute between the native Kennewick tribe and anthropologists played out in court. He was a Ferguson Fellow and Richardson Fellow; Daedalus completed studies in continental and applied philosophy before embarking on an interdisciplinary art degree. In the post-911 climate that reelected George W. Bush, he voluntarily expatriated to Spain, where the housing bubble was ripening. He lived in Barcelona studying Ildefons Cerdà's l'Eixample and painting and drawing. He returned to the U.S. to complete his graduate studies at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he focused on new media, film and performance.


Anna Paltseva

Soil Scientist

Anna Paltseva majored in Ecology and Nature Management at North Caucasus Federal University in her native Russia, where she was president of the Scientific Society, and worked in the biogeochemical lab conducting hydro-chemical analyses of a local river. After moving to the USA, she received a B.S. degree in Earth and Environmental Sciences from Brooklyn College. Anna is now on track to obtain a doctorate degree in Earth and Environmental Sciences from CUNY Graduate Center with concentration in geology. She is also a lecturer and a researcher. Since 2013, Anna has been working on the assessment of heavy metals bioavailability in urban soils. In her spare time, she volunteers as an XR-fluorescence technician to screen residential soil samples for a community outreach program for the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and also educates people about soil contamination in urban gardens at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and New York City Housing Authority annual events.


Gil Lopez


Gil Lopez is an urban farmer, eco-educator, landscape designer/installer and direct action crafter.


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Photograph by Pablo Sanz-García

Photograph by Pablo Sanz-García

Georgiana Phua


Georgiana Phua is an artist-educator working in education policy. Taking the form of embroidery, watercolours and installations, her artworks investigate the relationships that people have with other people, nature and domestic objects. In 2010, Georgiana and fellow School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate Misato Inaba were awarded the Davis Projects for Peace grant to carry out a food security project, educating high school students about agriculture and art, in rural Kenya. Through the use of visual communication tools, the students shared their knowledge with their community to promote methods of sustainable agriculture. Apart from issues of art education, she is also interested in sustainable development. Georgiana currently lives, works and maintaining vermicomposting bins in Singapore.