Let’s face it: Asian carp doesn’t sound appetizing. Then again, neither does Slimehead.
But Slimehead is more commonly called Orange roughy — thanks to a marketing campaign and rebranding — and people love it.
With the success of the Orange roughy campaign in mind, the State of Illinois has now begun similar treatment for Asian carp. The campaign, called “The Perfect Catch,” will rename the fish. The new name will be announced this summer.
The reason for the campaign is simple. If people begin to eat the fish and like it, demand will grow, and subsequent commercial fishing will reduce the invasive fish’s numbers before it has time to make its way into the Great Lakes and wreak havoc on the ecosystem.
Where Did Asian Carp Come From?
The family of fish called Carp are native to Europe and Asia and have been introduced to U.S. waters since the mid-1800s, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) explains.
Collectively known as Asian carp, bighead carp, black carp, grass carp, and silver carp, the fish was introduced to the U.S. during the 1970s to control algae, weed, and parasite growth in aquatic farms; control weed growth in canal systems; and even control algal blooms in wastewater treatment plants, USGS notes.
Unfortunately, in less than 10 years, these captive fish escaped into the Mississippi River basin — and began making their way north. They are now in large rivers including the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers.
What’s The Problem?
Asian carp are now competing directly with native aquatic species for food and habitat. The problem is that Asian carp out-compete other fish for food and space, according to AsianCarp.us. The situation is so bad that Asian carp “have been known to dominate entire streams, effectively pushing out the native species,” the National Park Service reports.
“Experts are worried that if these fish get into the Great Lakes, they may negatively affect the area’s $7 billion/year fishing industry, and if they spread further north in Minnesota, they could threaten the resort and sport fishing industry,” the National Park Service explains. “By out-competing native fish species for food and habitat, carp may reduce the populations of native fish that are so important to anglers.”
Will Anybody Eat Them?
The problem with thinking about eating Asian carp is that they are — well, let’s be honest — nasty, right? Actually, that’s not true.
“To us in America, we think of carp as a bottom-feeding, muddy-tasting fish, which it is sometimes,” Dirk Fucik, owner of Dirk’s Fish and Gourmet Shop in Chicago, said in a USAToday article. Fucik, who the article reports has had success serving Asian carp to customers, is participating in the rebranding campaign. Asian carp is a plankton-feeder, not a bottom-feeder, so it has a “different type of flesh — much cleaner, sweeter-tasting meat,” he said.
Being a plankton feeder makes all the difference in the world. According to the Asian Carp Challenge, the fish are flaky, tasty, low in mercury, and rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
“They have white, flakey meat that’s mild, not very fishy, and take to most any seasoning,” Clay Ferguson, a fisheries researcher and Ph.D. student in Virginia Tech’s Department of Food Science and Technology, said in an Augusta Free Press article. “If you are one of the few who try and don’t like Asian carp, that fish was either poorly handled, overcooked, or you just don’t like fish.”