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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 18, 2010

Louisiana company plans to put invasive carp on retail shelves

The Courier (Houma), AP Louisiana Outdoor Writers Exchange

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

This early Dec. 2009 photo provided by the Illinois River Biological Station via the Detroit Free Press shows Illinois River silver carp jump out of the water after being disturbed by sounds of watercraft. Many fear that the Asian carp, which can reach 4 feet long and weigh up to 100 pounds, will wreak havoc, not by attacking native fish, but starving them out by gobbling up plankton. Michigan asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, Dec. 21, 2009 to close shipping locks near Chicago to prevent the carp from invading the Great Lakes and endangering their $7 billion fishery. (AP Photo/Illinois River Biological Station via the Detroit free Press, Nerissa Michaels)

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BATON ROUGE, La. Building off a state-developed marketing plan, a group of Louisiana-based companies has started a joint venture that will put Asian carp on retail shelves within weeks.

The fish are being marketed as silverfin, the name it was given in a marketing plan developed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The agency is promoting recreational and commercial applications of an invasive fish that has caused huge problems for boaters in northern states.

Rather than poisoning the fish to get rid of them like northern states have done, wildlife officials are opting to make them an appetizing meal.

Chef Philippe Parola of Baton Rouge, CEO of Chef Parola Enterprises and Partran, kick-started the campaign in the fall, and it's finally coming together in the New Year.

"We have the whole game plan ready to go," Parola said.

Months ago, food scientists, state biologists and federal agencies partnered to develop ways to clean and process the fish.

The state recently approved preliminary rules for the harvesting of silverfin.

Parola, along with Chef Cullen Lord of Fleming's Restaurant and Darryl Rivere of A la Carte Food, stepped in with recipes like silverfin cakes and silverfin almondine.

Rivere Foods of Paincortville has also signed on as the lead processor, New Orleans Fish House will be distributing the frozen products, and Rouses Supermarket is the first official buyer.

Parola will be attending the National Grocers Association Convention in Las Vegas to pitch the fish to its 1,500 members.

As for the fish's taste, Parola said that it's a cross between scallops and crab meat. "Consumers will love it," he said.

For state officials, creating a silverfin market is a biological win as well.

It's a relatively new species that competes with other fish for food and poses a risk to boaters since silverfin, which weigh as much as 30 pounds each, can jump out of the water. The fish have been known to cause boating accidents, black eyes, bruises or in the most extreme cases, death to the boater.

Additionally, eradication of this invasive species is basically impossible.

Parola said his role is unique because it puts private money behind a public problem. "This is being done without any taxpayer dollars," Parola said. "This is our money."

Culinary adventures are nothing new to Parola. In the early 1980s, he was among the chefs leading the way in cooking alligator meat. He was partly behind the effort for softshell crawfish as well, but he said it was "too expensive."

Parola, however, may be best known as the man who attempted to sell the nation on nutria meat a few years back.

The campaign for silverfin is "dramatically different," he said, because the fish doesn't resemble an overgrown rat.

"If we can't do something with silverfin, we are clowns. It's too good to ship to Asia, it's too good to use as bait, and it's too good to leave on the bank," he said.

The fish were introduced to the U.S. from east Asia in the 1970s to help manage aquaculture ponds and wastewater lagoons. They quickly escaped into the wild and arrived in Louisiana waters from the north in the late 1980s and early 1990s.