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The ravenous Bighead Asian Carp is looking for a way to get into the Great Lakes via the Chicago Area Waterway System and it’s no laughing matter. In fact, as reported in TradeOnlyToday, it’s serious enough that there’s now a bill in Congress to, possibly, eliminate the expected devastation to native fisheries the Carp would cause if it gets into Lake Michigan and beyond. 

Perhaps rather than a typical long wait for Congress to act (you know, if we want to slow aging in America, just run it through Congress) those dealing with the problem should take a page from the conservationists’ handbook in the Florida Keys – eat ’em!

That’s the recommendation of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation as a way to keep the non-native Lionfish from gobbling up local marine life on coral reefs. In fact, REEF recently released “The Lionfish Cookbook,” which contains no less than 45 recipes for the fish that proponents say is a delicately flavored white meat. “It’s absolutely good eating, a delicacy,” claims Lad Akins, a REEF director and co-author of the cookbook with professional chef, Tricia Ferguson.

The Lionfish is a prickly predator armed with flaring venomous spines like a lion's mane. They’re native to the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. According to Reuters, it’s believed this predator got into Florida waters during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when an aquarium broke spilling at least six fish into Biscayne Bay. With few natural predators, they’ve been multiplying and voraciously preying on local fish, shrimp and crab populations on Florida’s world-famous coral reefs.

Similarly, the Asian Carp, which can grow to four feet long and 100 pounds, reportedly escaped from southern fish farms during Mississippi River flooding in the 1990s. They flourished and moved north in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. It’s feared the fish, which consumes up to 40 percent of its body weight in plankton daily, will starve out smaller and less aggressive native competitors and trigger a collapse of the Great Lakes’ $7 billion annual sport and commercial fishing industry.

Currently, the Asian Carp are being stopped 6 miles from Lake Michigan behind a Corps of Engineers-installed electric fish barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. That makes them an easy target, unlike the Lionfish which inhabits many of the 6,000 coral reefs of the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas.

Are the carp edible? Yes. In fact, several million pounds are sold annually, primarily to Asian-American communities in California, New York and Chicago. But the name "carp" is a turn-off to non-ethnic Americans. However, there was once a fish called Patagonian Toothfish that people wouldn’t eat. Now called Chilean Sea Bass, it’s widely popular!

The carp also has good angling value. In Europe, when not fished for food, they are eagerly sought by anglers, a challenge to hook and a good fight. In the Florida Keys, REEF organizes local fishing "derbies" to hunt, net, spear and catch the Lionfish with rod and reel. It has staged clinics to teach fish handling tips (to avoid a painful prick from the mantle of venomous spines) and Lionfish meat is safe to eat and contains no venom. REEF even holds “tasting” sessions.

Perhaps there’s an “Asian Carp Cookbook” in the future. But while Congress tries to find some solution, giving commercial fisherman incentives and turning sport fishermen loose in those Chicago area waterways could go a long way to reducing the threat to the Great Lakes – and even deliver fish sticks!

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