With 50 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our ocean and the total number of fish in the sea half of what is was in 1970, is can be daunting to understand good ways to be a consumer of seafood. Wetlands & Wellies has always been a celebration of wetlands delicious bounty, but with changing times, we thought it appropriate to examine both the historical favorites and what is realistically thriving in our wetlands. The answer is our own worst gastronomic nightmare, fish that we introduced, in other words the invasive ones. At the top of this list is the common carp. These bottom feeders were brought to the United States in the 1880’s as a well-loved food source in both Europe and Asia and they are now believed to be in every state except Alaska.
Carp eat almost anything, fish eggs, water plants, insects and seeds. As bottom dwellers they stir up the sediment as they look for food, which inhibits the sunlight from penetrating the water to regrow the plants they devour. They can also withstand extreme heat and cold and don’t mind living in very poor water quality. Adult carp can grow to be nearly 100 pounds. Worst of all, a single adult female can produce over a million eggs. As one wildlife biologist stated, “they’re the perfect invasive species”.
Malheur Lake was the unlucky recipient of carp in the early 1950’s after being introduced to the Silvies River in the 1920’s. Part of the Closed Lakes Basin in eastern Oregon this Oregon’s greatest wetland is a major stop-over for migrating water birds on the Pacific Flyway. Malheur Lake has been transformed by carp. The shallow lake is now open, muddy water, devoid of plants that are used for both nesting and food by the migrating birds. The birds are now disappearing, looking for new higher quality feeding and resting areas. Not an uncommon story for carp filled waters. A collaborative effort at Malheur Lake is ongoing, combining rigorous science, trapping and lake enhancements in hopes of one day returning the lake to its pre-carp days. (See video below for more information).
As carp populations continue to boom, we began to wonder if we could introduce people’s taste buds to a “new sensation”. If we could transfer some of our love for salmon and other native species to carp, the impact could be huge. Just maybe, it could allow time for wetland habitats and salmon populations to restore and rebound. Join us at Wetlands and Wellies 2019 for the chance to taste Malheur Lake carp cooked by some of Portland’s best known chefs. We look forward to tasting, talking and listening to what attendees think! It will take more than one dinner to revolutionize carp, but it has taken carp 100 years to devastate our wetlands, so it’s time we start eating this problem.
Seagrant factsheet: https://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/sites/seagrant.oregonstate.edu/files/invasive-species/toolkit/asian-carp-factsheet.html
OPB News: https://www.opb.org/news/article/turning-around-malheur-refuge-one-carp-carcass-at-/
National Park Service: https://www.nps.gov/miss/learn/nature/carphist.htm
Get Mouthy Podcast: https://mouthypod.com/
Malheur Lake: Essential for Habitat and Culture https://btimesherald.com/2019/06/19/malheur-lake-essential-for-habitat-and-culture/
Photo Credit: High Desert Partnership