When Rice heard Chapman's supply and demand theory in 2006, he got an idea. Chapman put Rice in contact with Andrew Clarke, a food sciences professor at the University of Missouri, and Ellen Dierenfeld, the animal nutritionist at the Saint Louis Zoo. Together they created "carp cakes."

The cakes consist of entire Asian carp — heads, entrails and all — ground up and re-formed into hockey-puck-size patties that resemble Jimmy Dean sausages. The carp cakes are fed to zoo animals, who would otherwise consume ocean fish like mackerel. Vitamins and supplements are added to tailor the cakes to each animal's specific dietary needs.

"We're processing them to make sure they're nutritionally balanced and then resizing them so animals of all sizes can eat them," says Dierenfeld, noting that the animals at the Saint Louis Zoo consume 40 tons of fish annually. "I'm hoping that we can have a win, win, win situation: clean out invasive species in the riverways, lower the use of marine fishes and have another income option for commercial fishermen."

Tom Carlson
Robin Parks poses with a 25-pound bighead carp he bagged on the Mississippi River.
Robin Parks poses with a 25-pound bighead carp he bagged on the Mississippi River.

Adds Rice: "Basically, we're taking lemons and making lemonade."

The cakes are still in the testing phase and are only being used at the Saint Louis Zoo and a handful of other facilities. Still, Chapman says it's an encouraging development, especially if consumer interest in the fish increases. He points to China, where carp are indigenous and have been a staple food source for centuries, as an example.

"The carp are in very bad shape in Chinese rivers; there's very few left partly because of overfishing," Chapman says. "To me, that means if they can overfish them there we can probably do it here, too."

Standing in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven in Festus, I tell Robin Parks, Keith Riehn and Jerad Wofford that I want to keep a carp from our trip to cook and eat. They look at me like I'm crazy.

"You couldn't pay me to eat one of those things," remarks Wofford, the cameraman.

"Let me know how it is," Parks says, shaking his head in disbelief. "I've never tried it."

How to get rid of the huge quantities of carp hauled in remains a touchy subject among some hunters.

"There's people that get into the habit of shooting fish and dumping them at the boat ramp," says Hunter. "That gives bowfishermen a bad name because there's no mistaking who left the fish — they're full of holes."

Most people do find ways to recycle the fish. For their part, Parks and Riehn like to donate their carp to "the turtle guy," a man they know who owns several snapping turtles that collectively consume more than 400 pounds of fish a week.

Darin Opel says he cleans every fish he catches and uses the meat as bait for his raccoon traps. Some give the meat to rod-and-reel fishermen to use as catfish bait, while others donate their fish to bird-of-prey sanctuaries, where hawks and eagles make quick work of the carp.

Some bowfishers actually do enjoy eating their catch.

"I just deep fry 'em, and the ribs are just absolutely fabulous," says Gary Allen, from Alton. "But most fishermen around here just turn their noses up at it."

"I'm not cleaning a single one of them stinkin' sonsabitches," Hunter, a farmer from New Madrid, says in a thick Ozark drawl. "They stink when they come out of water. They'll slime and crap all in the boat. They shit this green slime — nastiest smelling thing you ever smelled in your life. No way I'm eating that."

The biggest problem with cleaning and eating Asian carp is that they are an extremely bony fish. Looking at one flayed open on a cutting board, tiny white bones permeate almost every inch of the meat.

Allen and Chapman have both come up with their own methods of cleaning the carp. They have posted step-by-step photo guides to salvaging as much boneless meat as possible on the Illinois Bowfishers' website. Since Chapman scores the meat with a fillet knife, a tedious process, I elect to try Allen's method on my fish, a silver carp about two feet long.

After discarding the guts (the carp smells twice as bad inside as it does out), I follow the instructions and start by cutting off the bottom and top thirds of the fish, leaving just the rib cage. After an exasperating, gag-inducing, half-hour long process, I'm left with eight thin strips of meat, each with a single thick rib bone in the center. Allen refers to these as "carp pork chops."

In the end, a relatively large carp is reduced to half a plate's worth of fish sticks. Breaded, fried and drizzled with lemon juice, silver carp tastes just like tilapia or any other cheap, white-fleshed river fish.

In 2006, Bradford Street Press published the Invasive Species Cookbook, a guide to cooking everything from zebra mussels to Burmese pythons. A sample recipe from the book describes a dish called "Stuffed Nutria Hindquarters," referring to the South American muskrat-like rodent that has infested wetlands from Louisiana to Chesapeake Bay. The tome's tag line: "If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em."

« Previous Page