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Kentucky Tuna, Anyone?

There is a growing awareness of sustainable seafood with the general public. For domestic choices, catfish is now one of the most commonly farmed fish in the U.S., generating the largest volume and revenue of all farmed seafood. As a result, catfish has become one of America’s most popular seafood choices.

Tilapia grown in the U.S. and in environmentally friendly systems is also in demand, yet less than 10 percent of tilapia consumed in the U.S. is farmed domestically.

Great Lakes trout were reduced by overfishing and the introduction of non-native species. Due to recent increases, lake trout from Lake Huron and Lake Superior is considered a “good alternative.” On Monterey Bay Aquariums Seafood Watch List Concerns about low numbers in Lake Michigan result in an “Avoid” ranking.

But there is another species lurking in domestic waters, in abundance, invasive yet not much desired by the consumer. Asian carp have been a popular food fish in Asia for thousands of years. Would another name make it taste more delicious?

Kentucky State University researchers think so. The fish with a bad reputation has a new nickname—Kentucky tuna—and, they hope, a spot on your dinner plate. “We’re trying to break that mindset, because a lot of people are prejudiced against the name ‘carp,’” said one associate professor in the Division of Aquaculture and Environmental Sciences at KSU.

To make the fish more appealing to American consumers, the fish have been renamed silver fin or Kentucky tuna, a practice which worked for other species such as the Patagonian tooth fish which is marketed as the Chilean sea bass, slime head as orange roughy and dolphin fish as mahi mahi, just to name a few.

An omnivore, Asian carp eat plankton and mussels and aren’t bottom-feeders, as many believe. This fish is not bad at all, and in Louisiana, the fish is sold as “silver fin” in restaurants and grocery stores, after fish and wildlife officials launched a campaign to rename Asian carp for marketing and packaging purposes. The pearly white flesh,  complicated by a series of bones, is described as tasting like a cross between scallops and crab meat by some chefs working on possible recipes.

We, too, here at the casino brought in our first shipment last week, to satisfy culinary curiosity, educate, and evaluate the potential for our guests, our chefs tested a number of ways preparing dishes was deemed feasible. We had a lot of fun, and it sparked a lively conversation. But most importantly, we sampled a fish which tasted delicious. Our chefs are excited on the prospects, and we will continue our R&D to see some menu ready creations here soon.

Asian carp are not native to the U.S., and there are three types that cause fishermen the most concern: the bighead, the silver carp, and the black carp. The bighead weighs up to 100 pounds, and the black carp can grow even bigger, up to 150 pounds, and seven feet long. The fish can multiply quickly and threaten the food that bass, paddlefish, and other species depend on.

Efforts to keep them out of the Great Lakes include spending millions of dollars on electrical barriers. Chemical poisons have been tried, but they wipe out other fish. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a report that identifies potential options or technologies aimed at preventing the movement of Asian carp and 38 other aquatic nuisance species from the Mississippi River basin into the Great Lakes.

There are no solid numbers on how many Asian carp are living in Kentucky waters. “Even if we aren’t seeing huge numbers of them now, we will in the future,” one scientist at KSU said.

In the Illinois River, the invasive fish erupt around motorboats like popcorn in a hot pan. The fish are swimming in growing numbers deeper into Tennessee through locks and dams on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. A commercial catfish fisherman in Tennessee has hauled in as much as 5,000 pounds of silver carp in a day from the northern portion of Kentucky Lake.

Silver carp were brought to the U.S. from China, mainly to clean up the algae and detritus in catfish ponds and sewage lagoons. But massive flooding on the Mississippi River since the early 1990s sent water across ponds, allowing the carp to escape into the major waterways.

Asian carp is a “green fish,” environmentally friendly because it eats so low on the food chain. It’s high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and is inexpensive. Asian carp are low in mercury because they don’t eat other fish. They also grow so quickly, there’s little time to accumulate it.

How about “eating it” —the best way to address the growing fish population? We just need a lot of people eat the fish. The American consumer can make use of this resource to feed the poor or even the rich; it’s just a tremendous food resource out there.

Paddle fish caviar is increasing in popularity and is an alternative to further endangering sturgeon. So, how about silver fin caviar instead?

While the Kentucky tuna is still a hard sell, I am convinced that in a few years we will see it appear in many food stores and restaurants. Here is my challenge for all you chefs out there: Ask your fish monger to bring you some and go in the kitchen to “play.” Have fun.

To read more about these invaders, check out the Detroit Free Press’s definitive six part series, “The Truth about Asian Carp.”

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  • Tad Wilkes posted: 12 Jun at 12:54 pm

    Very interesting. So much is in a name.