We're often told not to eat our problems--however, when faced with the invasive Asian carp population, eating the problem might be one of the best things we can do.
According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, some invasive carp are "capable of producing over 1 million eggs annually." Chef Sara Bradley, proprietor of Freight House in Paducah, said Asian carp was introduced to American ponds in the hopes that they would clean the water by eating algae from the surface of the water.
"There aren't really any natural predators for this fish," she said. Without a predator to keep their population in check, the Asian carp are free to eat as much plankton and algae as they want, which is detrimental to the native species that depend on the same resources.
Bradley's solution? Serve up the Asian carp as a fresh entrée. Her restaurant serves the fish under the name "Kentucky Silver Carp," though in the past they called in "Kentucky Blue Snapper." Bradley said they've sold just as much Asian carp after changing the name. She estimated they sell an average of about 30-35 silver carp filets and 15-20 bighead carp filets per week.
She said, while some people expect Asian carp to be muddy-tasting and unpleasant, this is actually a misconception. Asian is a top-feeder filter carp; species referred to as common carp, such as catfish, live at the bottom of lakes and spend more time in the mud.
Bradley said people have been "constantly surprised" by how pleasant Asian carp tastes. She added these fish are about as fresh as you can get in this part of country, as they spend only about five hours out of water before being served. She also said the fish are healthy, clean sources of protein that contain no heavy metals, as the Asian carp is not carnivorous.
Bradley said people should eat Asian carp for three reasons: because they're delicious, because we should do what we can to keep the species in check and because it supports local fishermen.
"By eating Asian carp, we're supporting jobs for the people around us," she said. Bradley said her restaurant's push to promote eating Asian carp has been a "huge team effort," with servers telling customers about the carp and cooks preparing the fish beautifully. The carp are seared in a pan with garlic and butter, so that one side is crispy and the other is soft. The end result is a rich, mouth-watering delight, she said.
According to a USDA study, Asian carp also can be used to feed not only humans, but other fish. The study said that the data suggested that "fish meals derived from Asian or common carp would be valuable feedstuffs in diets for hybrid striped bass, rainbow trout, and possibly other cultured fishes."
Still, Bradley expressed the belief that, even with increased consumption, Asian carp will be a part of our ecosystem for a long time, for better or worse.
"There's no way that we could eat enough Asian carp to get rid of it," she said. "It's not going anywhere."