The Fisherman’s Ally in the Fight against Invasive Aquatic Species? Chefs.
By Debbie Kay
Carp, lionfish, and northern pike are all great fish to have where they belong, and huge pests to have where they don’t. As invasive species damage habitats, outcompete for food, hybridize with local strains and eat other native fish in different areas, agencies struggle to find ways to eliminate these monsters. They offer reward for bucket biologists who introduce the wrong fish into different waterways. They offer no-limit year-round seasons on aggressive predators like lionfish, and they work to educate and gain help from anglers, their biggest ally in the fight against invasives. A surprising new ally has emerged, however, who has the power to educate non-fishers in a surprising way, and increase consumer demand for the many invasives. This ally is the gourmet chef, and many throughout the country have found ways to put these fish high up on the menu to try to encourage more people to catch and sell them, or try to cook them themselves.
Can’t Beat ‘Em Eat ‘Em
Invasive species are not limited to fish, and one of the most destructive animals in regard to fish rearing wetlands is the nutria. This rodent is well-known in the bayou, and has recently been taking over certain areas in Oregon. Chefs like Louisiana based Philippe Parola have opened cooking consulting services that can help chefs add nutria to the menu in innovative and flavorful ways. As a chef himself, Parola
sees nutria as an almost perfect food. It’s a versatile cooking protein, inexpensive to buy but expensive to sell, and it makes customers feel good for helping native wetland communities. The logic of this has had him expand the goal of getting invasives on local restaurant menus and kitchen tables nationwide. He is about to become the star of a new cooking show, called If You Can’t Beat ‘Em Eat ‘Em His team will come nationwide to help chefs to add local invasives to their menus. His other specialties include American alligator, snow goose and carp.
Invasive Cooking Contests
Areas like the Caribbean have taken their invasives and created cooking contests to try and encourage natives and guests to eat more of these dangerous fish. The lionfish is one of the most dangerous species to delicate reef communities because of their huge appetite, lack of natural predators, and their ability to have millions of offspring per year. Mayreau, in the Grenadines, holds a public annual lionfish cooking contest where guests can come and try portions of each of twelve professionally cooked lionfish dishes for a dollar apiece, and vote for their favorites. The contest serves as a chance to taste lionfish for a low price and encourage guests to order it on at their local restaurants, as well as to raise public charity awareness on the danger of this fish in Caribbean waters.
Boutique Foodie Restaurants
Finally, upscale theme restaurants throughout the nation are catching this trend and creating restaurants that allow their clientele to feel good about their food choices. (A list of several of these restaurants can be found here). These restaurants often feature local seafood, but in some cases they try to bring attention to invasive species farther from home, like Norman’s Cay restaurant in Manhattan, which specializes in lionfish. In Connecticut, there is a sustainable sushi restaurant with a wide variety of invasive fish nationwide that even offers a separate invasive species menu. Some are year-round occurrences while others are annual events, but all are meant to raise awareness of the problem and encourage anglers to target these species and consumers to ask for them by name.
Do you have any ideas or recipes that might work for Can’t Beat ‘Em Eat ‘Em? Leave a comment.