Recent Mississippi Floods Disperse Asian Carp To New Areas

In addition to the loss of homes, buildings, crops, and fish farms, the recent flooding of the Mississippi river presents another worry for residents and emergency and recovery crews.

Considered a problem species by many near the Mississippi river, scientists fear Asian carp have been introduced to areas affected by the flood. U.S. Geological Survey biologist Duane Chapman believes there is a good chance Asian carp have reached areas previously uninhabited by these fish. Says Chapman, “We may now be finding them in lakes, ponds, bayous, anywhere the river water went. Those things will be full of carp now.”

Heavy rains and snow this year caused the Mississippi river to grow to six times its normal size and reach 48 feet in height. The Army Corps opened various floodgates in order to divert water and minimize damage to cities along the Mississippi river. This may have also allowed Asian carp to travel via spillways and reach new areas.

Asian carp can grow up to 4 feet long, weigh up to 100 pounds, and live up to 25 years. Imported to the U.S. in the 1970s, Asian carp originally were kept in catfish farms to consume algae. However in the 1980s, a flood allowed the carp to escape into the Mississippi river. Since then, they have been increasing in number rapidly and gradually working their way up to the Great Lakes. Presently, they have yet to enter the Great Lakes because of electric barriers at the lakes’ entrance set up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Considered a voracious fish, Asian carp greedily eat and compete for food sources. They are known to eat large amounts of food many times their weight. According to Greg Lutz, professor of aquaculture at the Louisiana State University Agriculture Center, “a 1-pound carp has eaten at least 10 pounds of plankton to get that size. So if you have hundreds of thousands of pounds of carp they are eating millions of pounds of plankton.” This endangers other species of fish because of the diminished food supply.

Asian carp have the ability to survive in both freshwater and saltwater making them even more resilient. While flooding may cause mixing of freshwater and saltwater and drive away freshwater fish, Asian carp are unaffected.

Millions of dollars have been spent on measures to try to combat Asian carp. But as some chefs have shown, a possible way to deal with these pesky Asian carp would be to catch them for food. French chef Philippe Parola prepares the carp either by breading and frying, pan frying in butter, or poaching which yields a fillet that is bright white in color and has “absolutely no fishy taste.” Some claim Parola’s breaded patties taste very similar to crab cakes. Some people participating in a blind taste test were even unable to tell the difference between the breaded carp patties and crab cakes.

Parola also says expanding the market for Asian carp would not only help curb carp population but could also bring economical benefits. Having a domestic source for fish would lessen the need to import fish from other countries. Also, jobs would be created. For instance, Grafton Summit Enterprises LLC is planning to build a fish processing plant which would create jobs for 60 people and add 10 boats to the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

Phillip Foss, head chef of the Lockwood restaurant in the Palmer House Hilton in Illinois, is another chef that promotes Asian carp as a source of food. He uses carp caught from the Illinois river to make lime flavored ceviche, carp chowder, and Asian “carp”-accio.

The downside to Asian carp as a food source is catching and preparing them. Asian carp are known to leap unpredictably out of the water and cause injuries to boaters and fishers. Once caught, Asian carp must be deboned, which is considered to be a much more difficult process than with other types of fish.

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