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Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi River system for years after escaping from fish farms and wastewater treatment ponds in the southern U.S.They’re knocking on the door of the Great Lakes, and a number of people are concerned about what could happen if carp become established in the region.In this five-part series, we’ll take a look at what officials are trying to do to keep the fish out, what might happen if carp get in, and why some people want to turn carp into a business opportunity.

Michigan chefs experiment with Asian carp

Sarah Payette
Chefs prepare Asian carp.

One of the strategies to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes is to eat the fish now living in the Mississippi River. But finding a market for millions of pounds of carp is not easy. Peter Payette wondered if people could get excited about Asian carp as a seafood delicacy. So he put some in the hands of chefs in Traverse City:

Asian Carp doesn’t taste like much. In fact, you might describe its taste as neutral.

So, Bob Rodriguez was not surprised to find out people are making hot dogs with it.

“If they want it to taste like hot dogs it’ll taste like hotdogs, they can probably make it taste like bratwurst, or bologna or whatever they want.”

Rodriguez teaches here at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Traverse City. He prepared the appetizers for our experimental dinner, a pate and some sausages.

He doesn’t want to call these fish Asian carp because carp are usually thought of as bottom feeders.

“It actually looks more like a salmon it’s got the mouth of a salmon. Doesn’t have the mouth of a carp. Carp’s a bottom feeder. A carp picks up all that sludge on the bottom. This fish is very clean.”

These fish are silver carp and filter plankton out of the water.

Most the food on the plates here consists of bits of fish formed into cakes and sausages, or mixed into a salad.

The closest thing to a filet is a little strip of fish wound on a pinwheel. That’s because the bones pretty much make it impossible to serve a fillet.

Eric Patterson is one of the owners of the Cook’s House in Traverse City. He told the dinner guests he went through about three pounds of fish trying to debone it before he gave up and cooked it with the bones left in.

“Once we pulled all the meat off, you kinda see the bone structure – there are bones going through the center of the meat. A pike has got that kind of Y-bone, so it’s got that Y-bone thing but it’s also just got these bones in the most bizarre places.”

There was a lot of talk about how to deal with bones.

Patti LaNoue Stearns writes about food and has published a guide to eating in northern Michigan. She says people just need to get over it.

There’s plenty of places in Europe where restaurants serve fish with the head still on.

“It’s a matter of education. It’s a matter of picking bones out. We need to figure out how to pick out bones, not to be crazy about what’s on our plate and take a look at what we are eating again.”

One chef who is interested in putting Asian carp on his menu is Micheal Peterson. Peterson’s restaurant Siren Hall in Elk Rapids specializes in local seafood. He figures the Mississippi River is local enough that he won’t have to fly it in, and he says there are plenty of creatures stranger than Asian carp that have been turned into popular seafood.

“Even lobster: lobster 200 years ago was garbage food. I mean, and they did the same process with lobster. It was so abundant back then, and now it’s a delicacy and it’s $15 a pound and lobster’s hard to eat.”

But making an invasive fish a popular food has some downsides.

You don’t want to end up protecting the fish in order to protect a few jobs.

But Duane Chapman with the U.S. Geological Survey says at the moment it’s the only option available.

“The only tack right now that we have that’s going to give us immediate results and help us keep the number of fish down so they don’t successfully invade the Great Lakes is harvest.”

And Chapman says the harvest appears to working. He says there are fewer fish being caught in parts of the Mississippi River that are being targeted.