Off with their carpy heads

[I’ll be behind the Great Firewall of China for the next two weeks, and the GFW is as fine an excuse as I can find to not blog.]

[Post adapted from TNR comment]

I’ve been watching with some fascination the steady march of Asian carp species up the Mississippi basin and now, with alarm bells blazing at the US Supreme Court, across the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal portage. Several news reports of the carp’s advances have been accompanied by mention of Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries’ “silverfin campaign” to promote fishing of invasive carp.

This approach would certainly solve the “no natural predators” problem that carp pose to Midwestern ecosystems. They’re huge, fleshy fish with acceptable taste (after all, they’re farmed for a reason) and a favorable nutrition profile. However, it’s difficult to see this actually evolving into much:

1. Their network of intramuscular Y-bones require considerable preparation in order to create those clean filets that Americans expect. If we’re going the “retail” route, consumers and anglers would need to actually learn something — not likely, and the Louisiana campaign seems to acknowledge this. Even if one were to take the wholesale route with machinery, existing fish processing equipment would have to be upgraded accordingly at considerable cost.

2. The carp population in many Mississippi basin waterways (like the Missouri) appears to have begun collapsing, having overshot its carrying capacity, so the available stock might be smaller than expected and perhaps not worth costly infrastructure investments (like processing plants).

3. Even if industrial processing existed, there’s no good industrial-scale way of catching river carp for processing into fish meal (whether for pet food, farmed salmon food, or fish sticks). Fish meal swept into monstrous nets by oceangoing factory ships is probably cheaper and easier, on a per-ton basis. And there’s not much use selling fish back to China, since they can always farm fish cheaper than we can.

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