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Flying Asian carp Invasive Asian carp could harm the fragile ecosystem of the Great Lakes. (Jim Weber / The Commercial Appeal / ZUMAPRESS.com / Corbis)

Today’s Special: An Invasive Species

Illinois plans to get rid of an invasive fish by getting people to eat them

October 27 , 2011
<p>Famous chef Philippe Parola is encouraging people to eat Asian carp. (Nam Y. Huh/AP Images)</p>

Famous chef Philippe Parola is encouraging people to eat Asian carp. (Nam Y. Huh/AP Images)

If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em! That’s what government officials in Illinois have decided to do with Asian carp, a fish that’s damaging the ecosystem (system of interactions between living and nonliving things) of the state’s waterways.

Asian carp are considered an invasive species—an animal or a plant that moves into an area and harms native animals or plants. Invasive species usually arrive at a new home by accident. They may come on cargo ships that travel around the world, for example. Some invaders are brought to an area on purpose to be sold as pets or food.

Officials have been trying to prevent Asian carp from spreading since the fish showed up in the lower Mississippi River in 1970s, but they haven’t succeeded. The fish have swum farther and farther north ever since. Asian carp are now so numerous in the Mississippi River that they are known for leaping out of the water by the dozens.

This might not seem like a big deal. But invasive species can disrupt the fragile balance of an ecosystem. Officials hope to stop the fish from reaching the Great Lakes in the north. If Asian carp reach the lakes, the large fish might harm the native plants and animals that live in the waters.

WHAT’S FOR DINNER?

Now Illinois hopes to solve the problem by making the fish a part of people’s diet. However, despite the fact that Asian carp are widely eaten in China, many folks in the U.S. confuse them with native carp, bottom feeders believed to contain lots of pollutants.

To change the image of the Asian carp, the state has recruited famed chef Philippe Parola, who calls the fish “silver fin.”

Parola, who believes the fish taste like a cross between scallops and crabmeat, says one can prepare silver fin by poaching, pan-frying, or breading and frying.

Officials in Illinois have even begun promoting the fish as a solution to hunger. Several weeks ago, the state launched a “Target Hunger Now!” campaign that could put Asian carp on the menu to help feed people in need.

“Asian carp actually [are] pretty tasty,” says Chris McCloud, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “[They taste] like what I think people would consider a normal white fish.”

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