You may have heard the best anecdotal recipe for cooking carp: 

  1. Place a fresh carp fillet in a pot of simmering water. 
  2. Then add a small round stone from the river and simmer for 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked. 
  3. Remove the carp from the pot and discard. 
  4. Serve the hot stone.  

In Australia, carp are considered a pest species and are not often thought of as a table fish due to their ‘muddy’ stigma. However, tapping into carp as a food source could help mitigate Australia’s invasive fish species problem, ultimately strengthening the health of our waterways and feeding some of the population.   

What are Carp and Why are They Bad? 

Native to central Asia, carp (Common Carp – Cyprinus carpio) have been introduced in numerous countries, making them the most widely distributed freshwater fish in the world. In Europe they are a popular angling fish and are heavily farmed in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  

Despite this, they place a heavy burden on Australian river systems, actively contributing to the degradation of our waterways. Carp are extremely adaptable, shaping the environment around them to suit their needs, placing native species at risk. They do this primarily through their eating habits as bottom feeders, gulping up mouthfuls of mud to catch invertebrates and then spitting the mud out again. This process causes disturbance to the water clarity, known as turbidity, meaning that less light can penetrate the water. This prevents photosynthesis from occurring effectively, causing harm to aquatic vegetation and the native species that rely on it. The feeding habits of carp can also be linked to the cause of blue-green algal blooms, which are extremely harmful for native fish and vegetation. In some countries, carp have been known to carry parasites as well as fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases. However outbreaks in Australia have been limited.  

Carp currently account for more than 80 per cent of the fish biomass throughout the Murray-Darling Basin, and up to 93 per cent in some areas. In 2016, the government allocated $15.2 million to fund the development and potential implementation of the National Carp Control Plan. This plan sought to explore the use of the Cyprinid herpesvirus 3 (carp virus) as a biological control agent as it is known to kill carp, and is yet seemingly sparing of native fish. This ongoing research, however, has been delayed due to COVID-19. In the meantime, maybe the solution to Australia’s carp problem lies within the human consumption of carp? 

Carp map highlighting the prolific nature of the invasive species. Source: DPI

Carp as a Commercial Industry 

Gippsland businessperson Keith Bell, has managed to make the best of a bad situation, turning carp into a lucrative resource. Since 1984, Keith has been commercially catching and selling carp to a variety of companies to make animal feed, animal supplements, leather, fertiliser, mince and even caviar. Keith’s original motivation for starting his business was simply because “everyone wanted to get rid of the carp”. Approximately 10% of Keith’s products go towards human consumption, with Asian and Middle Eastern markets being the most demanding. In 2012, Keith moved his business to Minnesota USA due to a growth in demand. His factory now ensures a year-round supply of carp products to the Northern hemisphere.  

Keith Bell and his carp. Source: Andy Rogers

Why not Australia? 

In Australia, carp is a still dirty word – and rightfully so. The damage carp cause to native flora and fauna is seemingly irreversible and their prolific presence shows no signs of slowing, with each female carrying over 1 million eggs. Ultimately, removing the stigma around eating carp is vital to the implementation of its consumption in Australia. Whilst we wait for the implementation and outcomes of the National Carp Control Plan, it’s time we take matters into our own hungry hands… 

A Few Tips for Preparing and Cooking Carp

Once the fish is caught, it is vital to plunge the fish into icy water in order to euthanise it. This practice prevents the build-up of histamines and other stress-response chemicals that cause the ‘muddy’ taste associated with the fish. The faster the fish is euthanised, the better it will taste! Next, skin the fillets and remove the white flesh covering the rib cage and belly. Another piece of white flesh can be cut from across the shoulders. What is left is the strong-tasting red meat which is less versatile than the white meat, but excellent for animal feed and fertilisers. 

Keith Bell collaborates with Lachlan CMA to present:

How to Catch, Prepare and Cook Carp

For more carp recipes, click here. 

Happy fishing!

Main photo: Common Carp Cyprinus carpio
Source: Arthur Ryland 

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