Why carp, one of Australia’s worst introduced pests, could be a great budget fish


Only a fraction of the 5,000 species of seafood make it from the ocean to the plates, but experts say widening our nets could help seafood sustainability while keeping the weekly food budget in check.

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Is it time for our fish and chips menus to change?

Luke Pearce, senior director of fisheries for the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, told ABC Radio Melbourne that while carp got a bad rap, the fish could find some love in the kitchen.

Carp are one of Australia’s worst introduced pests and have negative impacts on water quality and biodiversity, according to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

“They have such a negative impact on our environment and they just caused such huge problems in our river system,” Mr Pearce said.

An exchange of swimming carp in brown water.
The more carp removed from the waterways, the better, according to senior fisheries manager Luke Pearce.(Rural ABC)

There was also an idea that carp returned bad food and that put people off.

“I was of the opinion for a long time but convinced a lot of people over my time to taste them,” Mr Pearce said.

“But there are a few things you need to do first.”

Tackle a pest

While Mr Pearce said carp can survive in fairly unattractive environments, such as water from a sewage treatment plant, a good rule of thumb is that if you eat other fish from the source of water, carp would also be safe. .

Dead carp falling out of a crate
A national control plan is being developed for carp.(Landline: Kerry Staight)

“So if you eat a trout or a golden perch or a cod from the same stream, then a carp would be fine to eat,” he said.

Mr Pearce said tackling the flavor of the fish was also something to keep in mind.

When stressed, carp produce histamines which create an odor and its distinctive muddy taste.

“The faster you can get this fish on ice, the less muddy taste will be present,” he said.

Slippery mucus on the fish’s body has also tarnished the reputation of eating carp, but Mr Pearce said the solution was to skin.

“Once you’ve skinned your fish, that mucus is gone and you have a really nice clean, fresh, tasty fish fillet that you can do a lot with,” he said.

Cook vs Slaughter

A $15.2 million carp control plan is being developed with the aim of reducing the number of invasive species using a herpes virus, but Mr Pearce said that there was always a push for people to see fish as an alternative to protein.

“The carp are turned into fertilizer…but they consume all those resources that take away from our native fish and the more we can get out of them the better,” he said.

And the eels?

Lake Bolac Eel Festival co-founder Neil Murray lives in the Jupagalk Country in southwest Victoria and has been involved in an annual eel harvest for nearly two decades.

Mr Murry said First Nations people would congregate in late summer at Bolac Lake as eels begin their annual migration out to sea to spawn, known as the kuyang season.

“The eel was the most popular fish among First Nations people,” he said.

“It’s very nutritious, very abundant and easy to catch.”

Raw eel on a dish
Eel is still widely exported abroad.(ABC Radio Sydney: Amanda Hoh)

Mr Murry said while the industry was still lucrative enough most of the catch was frozen for export.

“I prefer it just freshly grilled over charcoal and I usually cut it into sections about four inches long and let the oil drain off of them,” he said.

“I think initially a lot of people were put off because it’s a slimy twisty snake-like thing, but when you were brought up in the area like me, it was part of our diet.”

Different no more

University of Melbourne marine and fisheries ecologist John Ford said that of the species caught by fishermen, only a few made it to the retail giants.

“The fish you see on the supermarket shelves, the ones that are already in demand, are only going to get more expensive,” Dr Ford said.

“The ocean cannot give us more fish than there is now and as the population increases, the demand increases.”

Dr Ford said this meant considering eating lower quality products, such as fishmeal, a product made from wild fish and by-products.

But he said there was a major reason the lesser-known products weren’t in stores.

“We don’t know how to cook them, and that’s the real challenge,” he said.

Large chunks of Norwegian salmon are stacked on top of each other in a supermarket fridge.
It should be profitable for supermarkets to stock alternative seafood products.(Flickr: BakiOguz)

Consumers should feel comfortable cooking an unfamiliar product.

“Someone has to be bold and get these products on the shelf and educate people,” Dr. Ford said.

He said while Australia’s supermarket duopoly would make a shake-up a challenge, future collaboration with cutting-edge fisheries bodies could shore up the future of seafood.


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