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Carp for Dinner – Can You Eat Carp?

Have you ever wondered whether you could possibly make some nice fish fingers out of the problem carp you see in your local waterways? Have you been told not to bother because they taste like mud? Although well meaning, this advice almost always comes from someone who has tasted neither carp nor mud. The time has come to add carp to the menu.

Carp in Australia

Carp are fish from the Cyprinidae family, a group of freshwater fish native to Europe and Asia. In Australia the Common or European Carp (Cyprinus carpio) is a well known pest fish species that was first introduced in the late 1850s. This environmental problem cannot be attributed to a single introduction and in fact the first few attempts failed. Unfortunately though the fish was introduced over and over again, eventually they stuck. A turning point (for the worse) came in the 1960s when a farmer released what became known as the Boolara strain of carp. This was an exceptionally vigorous and adaptive strain. The Boolara carp’s genetics enabled the pest to very quickly take hold in Australia’s freshwater systems and their numbers took off. The original purpose for these introductions included the release of ornamental fish for viewing, their use as bait and the stocking of ponds for aquaculture.

large carp
A large carp by David Keep, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Environmental Impacts

There are many negative environmental impacts attributed to carp. The science shows that the real problem is almost entirely their feeding habits. As adults the fish feed on the bottom of rivers and ponds where they suck sediment into their mouths. They separate any food from the sediment and then spit the spent sediment back into the water body. This is known as roiling and results in a murky suspension in the water column. This reduces light penetration, can clog the gills of native fish species and smothers plants, fish eggs and invertebrates. Carp also damage vegetation further by direct grazing pressure and by uprooting plants while roiling.
The obvious reason for catching carp from Australia’s waterways is as an environmental service. By catching carp you are removing the cause of much damage to Australia’s aquatic ecosystems. There is another reason you may wish to catch carp though, you can eat them.

Braised wild carp
Braised wild carp by Alpha, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Can you Eat Carp?

Everybody has heard from somebody who ‘knows’ that carp tastes bad. “They taste like mud”, you will hear them say. How many of those sharing this information have actually tasted a well harvested and prepared fish? I would bet not many. Outside Australia carp are seen as a delicacy and for good reason, they can be a find table fish.
Sure, if you pull a carp from the water and let it slowly suffocate in its own filth in a bucket it will taste like rubbish. So will any fish treated this poorly. If you treat the fish well post harvest then you have a great eating fish that is not only plentiful, but an environmental pest. You are doing an environmental service by catching and eating them! Carp are one of the most underutilized wild foods Australia has.

How to Handle After Capture

So how do you avoid the oh so well known muddy taste? What you have to do is stick your newly captured fish immediately on ice. This stops the fish from producing stress chemicals known as histamines, the origin of that horrible taste with fish treated poorly after capture. This phenomenon is not unique to carp, all fish should really be treated this way if they are to end up on the table. Sure it is a bit of extra work on behalf of the fisherman but it is well worth it. Stop being lazy!

Final thoughts

You can eat carp and they can taste damn good. So what is holding you back? Get out there and procure wild game in way that is both fun and an environmental service. Perhaps more importantly, spread the word and debunk the myth! You can eat Carp and they taste great!

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