The federal anti-carp initiative also includes $3 million in funding for "commercial market enhancements"âefforts to get people to buy and eat Asian carp, with the hope that a market for the fish will help limit its population. The chief obstacle is that people generally assume that Asian carp is similar to the common carp, a foul-smelling bottom feeder that very few Americans enjoy eating. In fact, the two types of fish share very few characteristics. But will it be possible to "re-brand" Asian carp?
, a voracious swamp rodent that looks like a cross between a rat and a beaver.
Parola had heard about the problems Asian carp was causing, and decided to see if it might be a candidate for re-branding. He took the fish that jumped into his boat to a friend's kitchen to test it. "I cut it up and cooked it up, and to my real surprise, it was an unbelievable fish," he said. "It's like eating jumbo lump crab meat when you eat that fish. It's amazing."
As a self-appointed spokesman of sorts for a new effort to promote Asian carp in Louisiana, Parola is hardly a disinterested critic. But it's true that Asian carp is considered an excellent eating fish in many parts of the world, especially China. "I've eaten them many, many times in China," Chapman, the fish biologist, said. "They'll take the fish and steam it with peppers. It's really good."
However, in addition to its name, Asian carp has another major problem. "It's an extremely bony fish," Parola admitted. The carp's complex bone structure makes it impossible to filet in a traditional manner—making it difficult to see how it could win many converts in the American market. "In China, you don't pick other people's bones for them, unless they're babies, because they want people to learn how to do it," Chapman explained. "But in our country, people don't know how to pick bones."
Still, Parola felt the fish was marketable. He got in touch with Gary Tilyou, an administrator at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries with whom he had worked on the ill-fated nutria campaign. Together, they devised a promotional strategy that tries to address the Asian carp's shortcomings. To get around the bone problem, they decided to initially market the carp for use in processed "fish products" like fish cakes and fish soups. They also taught suppliers methods of cutting the fish that yield relatively bone-free portions of flesh for cooking.
At the same time, to reduce its association with the common carp, they decided to give the fish a new name: silverfin. "I don't think we need to mislead anybody, but [carp] is a bad name," Tilyou said. This sort of fish renaming has worked well before: before it was introduced to American consumers in the 1990s, the beloved Chilean sea bass was known as Patagonian toothfish. (Apparently, Asian carp will not enjoy as thorough a makeover. According to Tilyou, retail fish markets will still have to label the flesh as carp.)