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Asian Carp: Basic Food or Delicacy

Asian Carp leap out of the water when disturbed. Image from the Illinois River Biological Station

It’s been a almost a year since I last wrote about Asian Carp. The Silver Fin leaps out of the water when disturbed and the Bighead is just big, coming in at a hundred pounds spread out along four feet. As food their bad behavior has given them a bad rap.

The State of Illinois, which has been hassling with the carp for years in an effort to keep the fish out of Lake Michigan, where it promises to change the ecology of the lake. It’s swimming up the Illinois River, where it constitutes 80% of the biomass, from the Mississippi and has entered the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal, which cuts through the natural divide between drainage to the Great Lakes and drainage to the Gulf of Mexico. Lake Michigan is a prime fishing ground for both recreational and commercial fishers. Stand on the shores of the lake on a summer evening and you see the lights of salmon fishers heading out to their fishing grounds.

Lake Michigan at the Mouth of the Sauble River at Luddington State Park

In China Asian Carp is a delicacy, served up in pricy restaurants. Illinois officials would like to see it caught and minced and served up in food pantries and soup kitchens, where the patrons find it yucky. Is it the flavor or the bad rap that is coloring their taste buds?

In Louisiana Baton Rouge Chef Phillipe Parola has been working with the Louisiana DNR to develop recipes for Asian carp. I sampled his Carp Cakes a year ago at the dedication of the National Great River Research and Education Center in Alton. Quite good. Today, September 22, 2011, Chef Parola will serve one of his recipes for carp to 350 homeless people.

In Chicago Chef Phillip Foss, who has done a lot of thinking about the carp, is searching for ways to turn Asian Carp into a delicacy and created Asian-Carpaccio. Go to his blog and download the recipe.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources wants to change the image of the fish in order to change its appeal to American taste buds. But, DNR personnel have yet to figure out the most efficient way to process the very, very bony fish. Mince it and serve it as fried Carp Cakes; fillet it and serve it grilled or poached or seared with a nice Chardonnay; can it and use it as a meat substitute. Rename it: we used to call Chilean Sea Bass the Patagonian toothfish. We renamed it, got people to love it, and overfished it in a very short period of time.

The chances of overfishing Asian Carp are remote. They reproduce like rabbits: The female produces 1.9-2.2 million eggs a year. Even if only 1 to 3% reach adulthood, that’s a lot of fish, whose only natural predator is us or could be us, if we could get over the yuck-factor and figure how to catch them. Clearly this guy fishing at Lock and Dam 26 at Alton, Illinois has gotten over the yuck-factor and seems to have had no trouble catching them on a line.

String of Carp caught at Lock and Dam #26, Upper Mississippi River, Alton, Illinois

But line fishing doesn’t work well. In the  six years since the beginning of the Redneck Fishing Tournament on the Illinois River in 2005, bowfishers have nailed the flying fish with arrows. And no one has developed a system of netting them.

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  1. […] Asian Carp: Basic Food or Delicacy(quintascott.wordpress.com) […]

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