Golden opportunity for silverfin

By Gregory Cappis

A simple name change could alter America’s seafood market.

Changing the common title of the Asian carp to “silverfin” and building a factory to efficiently remove the bones of the fish is one chef’s plan to solve an ecological problem and to fight hunger.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources worked with professional chef Philippe Parola on its “Target Hunger Now” campaign. The goal of the program is to use Asian carp to feed people in need. The program would also remove the fish from waterways, where it threatens to crowd out other species.

Another problem with the fish comes from their large size—approximately 30–40 pounds. They are easily frightened by the sound of boat motors and will leap high out of the water. If they land on a boat, they can damage equipment and harm the boaters.

“It’s not like we’re sacrificing something at the bottom of the food chain,” said Kevin Irons, aquatic nuisance species program manager at IDNR. “We’re giving top notch, world quality fish, and we can do that because they’re so abundant in Illinois right now.”

Common carp are bottom feeders that nose around in the mud for food. Asian carp actually eat plankton, which makes them healthier, according to Irons.

“It’s an excellent fish, extremely healthy [and] extremely clean,” Parola said. “The only problem that this fish has is the bones. It’s an extremely complex bone structure. Therefore, for many years people have talked trash about the fish, and the perception and image of the fish is extremely negative.”

Parola’s first step to changing the public’s perspective of the carp is to change its name. He worked with the FDA and viewers of his local Louisiana TV show to come up with the name “silverfin.” He believes changing the name is the key to changing people’s outlook on a fish that is actually high in protein and Omega-3.

Parola is working on generating funds to set up a processing plant that would use his somewhat secretive method of removing bones from the carp. He said the factory would be able to produce 40,000 to 80,000 pounds of silverfin meat or more per day.

It would take a single chef approximately 45 minutes to debone one Asian carp, according to Parola.

“The reason why it has not been such a good, marketable fish has nothing to do with the flavor and quality of the fish,” Parola said. “It has to do with the fact that it is too bony … It tastes like tilapia, only 100 times better and healthier.”

Parola isn’t the only one trying to find a way to productively use the fish to remove it from waterways. John Holden, CEO of Heartland Processing, is working to fund a project that will convert Asian carp into fish meal and fish oil.

“By adding 10 percent fish meal to feed grain, cows produce way more milk,” Holden said.

Parola plans to feed Americans with the silverfin. At his proposed plant, he will sell frozen silverfin filets to restaurants and grocery stores across the country.

“If we have the right product, we can certainly make a sale to these guys knowing the fact that it is a clean, domestic, organic, well-cut fish,” Parola said.

He donated all of the fish being served in the “Target Hunger Now” campaign, according to Irons.

“The removal efforts for human consumption, for fertilizers and programs like ‘Target Hunger Now,’ is just a win-win because you’re moving something in an ecological sense, and you’re providing a high quality protein product that tastes good,” Irons said. “I’ve eaten carp many ways and this is about as good as it’s been.”