The Salt
4:25 am
Sun August 17, 2014

Fighting (Tasty) Invasive Fish With Forks And Knives

Originally published on Sun August 17, 2014 10:39 am

Add kitchen knives to the list of weapons that humans are using to fight invasive species. I'm talking about fish who've made their way into nonnative waters.

How do they get here? Sometimes they catch a ride in the ballast water of ships. Or they're imported as live food or dumped out of aquariums. Once here, they can wipe out native fish, trash the ecosystem and wreck the beach business.

Take the northern snakehead, which has made its way into tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. It competes with native species for food, and then eats the native species, not to mention the odd frog or bird, with its mouthful of sharp teeth.

It's been called "Fishzilla." It breeds fast, has no natural predators and can grow to be 4 feet long. The northern snakehead hangs out in grassy shallows, making it hard to catch.

But a couple of years ago, Maryland started promoting the snakehead as an eating fish. Its harvest has increased from zero to 5,000 pounds a year.

Blue catfish is another alien invader. In its native Mississippi River basin, the blue catfish is a healthy part of the ecosystem. But it was planted in Northeastern waters as a sport fish, and now it's become a ferocious predator.

Blue catfish can live for as long as 20 years and grow to be as big as 100 pounds. So now, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has started promoting this fish as good eating, too. It's not a bottom feeder like other catfish, so it has a clean flavor, excellent for fish and chips.

Hurricane Andrew may be one of the actors to blame for lionfish, which is native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, now making its way over to the Atlantic. At a recent dinner hosted by the Baltimore Aquarium, lionfish was served with Jamaican seasonings. The chef described it as "delicate."

Asian carp got into the Mississippi River — this fish can jump barriers — and has been making its unwelcome way north. A chef in Louisiana renamed it "Silverfin," and now serves it almondine. Some Chicago chefs smoke Asian carp and serve it in chowder.

There are some critics of this tactic of eating invasive species: They worry that this will create demand. But Steve Vilnit, director of fisheries marketing for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, says if we sell the last blue catfish, we've done our job.

In the meantime, though, his official slogan for the fish is, "Malicious but delicious."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

If you're at the beach this summer, I'm not sure if this is good news or bad news. Many of the fish swimming around you are alien invaders that threaten the environment and the economy. Of the schemes to get rid of them, one in particular has caught the attention of WEEKEND EDITION food commentator, Bonny Wolf.

BONNY WOLF, BYLINE: If you can't beat them, eat them. Add kitchen knives to the list of weapons that we, humans, are using to fight invasive species. I'm talking about fish who have made their way into non-native waters. How do they get here? Sometimes they catch a ride in the ballast water of ships. Or they're imported as live food or dumped out of aquariums. Once here, they can wipe out native fish, trash the ecosystem and wreck the beach business.

Take the Asian snakehead which has made its way into tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. It competes with native species for food and then eats the native species. This fish has a mouthful of sharp teeth. It's been called fishzilla. The snakehead hangs out in grassy shallows, making it best caught with a bow and arrow. But a couple of years ago, Maryland State started promoting snakehead as an eating fish. Its harvest has increased from 0 to 5,000 pounds a year.

Blue catfish is another alien invader. In its native Mississippi River basin, the blue catfish is a healthy part of the ecosystem. But it was planted in northeastern waters as sport fish, and now it's become a ferocious predator. So now the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has started promoting this fish as good eating too. It's not a bottom feeder like other catfish, so it has a clean flavor, excellent for fish and chips.

Asian carp got into the Mississippi River and has been making its unwelcome way north. A chef in Louisiana renamed it silverfin and now serves it almandine. There are some critics of this tactic of eating invasive species - those who worry that it will create demand. Steve Vilnit, director of fisheries marketing for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources says if we sell the last blue catfish, we've done our job. In the meantime, though, his slogan for the fish is malicious but delicious.

WERTHEIMER: Bonny Wolf is managing editor of americanfoodroots.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.