Eating Invasive Species: Asian Carp Invasion

You don’t have to live along the waterways of America’s heartland to know about the invasive scourge that is Asian carp. Four primary species of Asian carp have basically taken over many rivers here in the US and pose a threat to the ecosystems of the Great Lakes. As of right now, I believe they are not actually in the Lakes yet but are in the rivers they feed. These large and voracious fish threaten many of our fresh water commercial fisheries, nets that once caught buffalo fish (which resemble carp) and other local species are now clogged with invasive carp.

A net full of fish doesn’t sound that bad, unless you can’t sell the fish, and for a long time that was the case. However, in the past few years this is starting to change for the better. The problem of invasive Asian carp in American waterways looks like it will not be going away soon. So, in the words of the SilverFin Group’s advisory board: If you can’t beat ’em…eat ’em!

This video shows one plant in Kentucky that has cornered the Chinese market for wild-caught Asian carp caught here in the US.

Is There a Market for Asian Carp?

There is plenty of farm-raised carp in China, but it seems like the consumers prefer the wild-caught carp’s flavor. I’ll have to take their word on that but I’m glad somebody likes them, so fishermen have an incentive to catch and bring carp to market. Besides a small but growing market for human consumption, Asian carp has also seen recent use in pet foods and in fertilizer.

An increased demand for Asian carp will hopefully drive up prices for commercial fishermen, which will then have a greater incentive to target the invasive species. Meanwhile a robust carp fishery can act as a buffer while traditionally-caught species rebound.

Although I am not a fan of carp based on my limited experience, Asian carp is said to be much better tasting than the common European carp. In an attempt to change public perception of Asian carp, University of Kentucky attempted to re-brand these fish as “Kentucky Tuna.” The problem being it is against FDA regulations to sell a non-Thunnus or Scombrid as “tuna.” Another group in Louisiana has branded the Asian carp species as “SilverFin” in their campaign to get the public to eat these fish.

It is seen on many more menus within its range, but besides exports to Asia, the carp is not seen in other American markets. I can see potential for using these fish in the so-called “value-added” seafood market and I’m curious if anyone has experimented with Asian carp in making surimi (aka imitation crab meat).

Like the invasive green crabs, I posted about recently, making food from species that don’t belong here is a win-win situation. I can’t recall an edible invasive species ever being completely eradicated from an area. What almost always happens is that either the invasive species takes over the ecosystem, or it becomes naturalized and finds a niche over time. Either way it makes economic and ecological sense to incorporate this new resource into our commercial fisheries.

I won’t delude myself into thinking that if we all start eating Asian carp or green crabs that we will solve the problem. But it’s a step in the right direction by attempting to keep the numbers in check and to stop their spread. In my opinion, a successful Asian carp fishery would be more like keeping the hedges well-trimmed versus uprooting them. I have never seen Asian carp for sale and am a little hesitant to try and cook it, but if I see it on a menu I’ll have to do my part and give Asian carp/Kentucky Tuna/SilverFin a try.