Last week the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency issued a press release about a partnership with some businesses around Kentucky Lake to encourage the commercial harvesting of Asian Carp.
A couple of days later my wife and I visited the Tennessee River Folk Life Museum at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park, and among the exhibits was a can of carp from bygone days.
The caption said canning carp and other species of fish was a common practice decades ago among river folks.
TWRA biologists claim the flesh of Asian Carp is delectable. Most of us have to take their word for it; we’ve never sampled carp.
I’d try one if I could catch one, but it’s almost impossible to do on sport-fishing tackle – aside from snagging them in tailwaters -- because Asian Carp don’t feed on minnows or other types of bait.
The carp subsist on plankton, and that’s where the concern lies. Fry and other small fish depend on plankton for their forage, and if it is depleted, the bottom of the food chain will suffer. That translates to problems at the top for larger game fish.
So far the situation is not critical, but if the Asian Carp population continues to explode, biologists warn that the invasive species will create major problems in the future.
The only practical way to remove large numbers of Asian Carp is by commercial netting – one million pounds were hauled out of Kentucky Lake last year – but the venture has to be made economically viable.
As I understand the plan, the Asian Carp currently netted from the Tennessee River are processed for pet food and fertilizer, and the TWRA hopes to expand that market. If, in addition, a new market could be developed for human consumption, the economic potential would be dramatic.
Long before I came across the canned carp exhibit at the Tennessee River Folk Life Museum (a fascinating tour everyone should make), I was aware that some folks eat what are commonly referred to as “trash fish” or “rough fish.”
Growing up in the country I heard about “carp cakes,” which consist of diced or ground carp meat mixed with various herbs, spices and other ingredients to make something akin to salmon cakes.
One of my uncles pickled river herring, cutting the fish into chunks and canning them in brine. The brine dissolved the bones, much the same as it does with sardines and mackerel. My uncle’s canned herring resembled the canned carp on exhibit in the river museum.
I’ve never tasted a carp cake or a picked herring, but lots of folks have – dating back over a century.
Considering all the advancements in the culinary arts, it seems like it wouldn’t be too difficult to turn a carp into a delectable dish. It works for sushi, doesn’t it?
If someone will put carp on the market, I’m willing to give it a try.
If it doesn’t work out, my fur-trapping buddy Clarence Dies can use it for bait.