Asian carp a bony problem for Louisiana officials

"If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em"

Don Ames
May 21, 2018 - 7:38 am
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Louisiana is reviving an attempt to eradicate a pesky invader from state waters. State officials, along with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, are hoping you might develop a taste for Asian Carp.

Those are the fish you see jumping out of the water when a motorboat passes by.

They're an invasive species that wreak havoc on native fish by gobbling up plankton. And, their ability to thrive in the brackish estuaries forming Louisiana's coastline raise the fear the fish could decimate the state's coastal fishing industry. Shrimp, oyster, blue crab and other finfish all rely on those plankton-rich waters at some point in their life cycle, and if Asian carp establish a population, they could damage the already fragile ecosystem.

But, WWL's outdoor expert Don Dubuc says they taste good. "The meat is delicious. It's a light, flaky, white meat...very tasty. But the problem is, it has a lot of bones in it."

"That's always been the stumbling block," says Dubuc. And, there hasn't been a cost efficient way to remove those bones to make the fish appealing and marketable. 

"Well, they've made a little progress in the processing of the fish and they're working on that process. They've got some new equipment now in place to remove the bones."

Two possible sites In Illinois are being considered for plants that would process 50,000 to 100,000 pounds of the fish per day.

That's one of the reasons Louisiana is resurrecting a campaign called "If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em."

Dubuc says the pesky fish could become a popular dish. "There's a good possibility it could go." Chef Paul Prudhomme accomplished something similar in the 1980's with the then unwanted Redfish by serving it blackened, to overcome its negative image.

But, Dubuc says there's another bone to pick with the pervasive Asian pest.

"It's still going to be a little bit of a tough sell, because of the name 'carp'. When people hear 'carp. they think of a muddy fish. They think of something that's very tasteless. But, this is extremely different. That's why they've actually changed the name to Silverfin."

"The name Asian Carp or Silver Carp isn't as glamorous as Silverfin," says Dubuc. "So, with that name, they're hoping that they'll get it into seafood delis and restaurants and really let it take off."

Dubuc says there's nothing good about this fish, except its taste...kind of like crabmeat. "They compete with other species. They destroy habitat. And, once they get established in an area, they're very difficult to get out."

The fish has few natural predators to curb population growth. A single female can produce up to one million eggs per year. If left unchecked the impact could severely damage recreational fishing, tourism, and the watersports industry up and down the Mississippi.

The carp were introduced into fish farm ponds in the central Midwest in the 1970's to clean murky pond water. Flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers caused ponds to overflow, allowing the carp to escape into rivers and reproduce in the wild.

In Louisiana, the fish average 30 to 50 pounds and can eat their weight in plankton in a day. After invading an area they annihilate the vital plant food local indigenous seafood relies upon.

Without the capacity to process the fish in the U.S., it's currently being sent to Vietnam to have bones removed by hand. The cleaned fish is then returned to the U.S. to be sold to restaurants, educational institutions, and grocery outlets.

Sysco Food Services of New Orleans, a global leader in selling, marketing and distributing food to restaurants, lodging, healthcare and educational facilities, has expressed interest in distributing Silverfin nationwide.

As a food source, Asian Carp is low in sodium as well as a good source of vitamin B12, selenium, protein, phosphorous and Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. It's a wild caught, sustainable, and a natural protein.

In a statement, Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser, whose office oversees the Louisiana Seafood Board, said “The solution to the threat Asian carp pose to our own vital fishing industry and ecosystem may rest, not in government engineering projects alone, but in private enterprise and old-fashioned marketing. By addressing the Asian carp issue we are helping to protect our native species while creating jobs for our fishermen by bringing this fish to market. Why eat imported catfish from Vietnam when our restaurants can offer delicious Silverfin dishes?”

And, a side note for fishermen from Don Dubuc..."If you catch one, it's the only fish that is illegal to release."
 

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