Dealing with a prolific pest can be made easier when the pest happens to be delicious. But in the case of the common carp, Australians seem to want to steer clear.
The restaurateurs at A. Baker in New Acton are working with Invasive Animals Cooperatives Research Centre to reel people back in, and on Monday provided a taste-test at the launch of an app and website that invites people to record sightings of feral fish pests, including carp. Canberra is trialling FeralFishScan, with plans to roll it out nationwide.
A. Baker co-owner Jarrod Deaton served a carp canape and carp jerky, neither of which had any trace of the bottom-feeder flavour you might expect. He said the answer was in careful preparation, and tackling preconceptions.
"They smell, they're a bottom-feeder, they're a pest; so people have a preconceived idea that they aren't a particularly appetising kind of fish," Mr Deaton said. "Certainly it seems that some people have tried to cook with them before and have been unsuccessful."
The restaurant has been experimenting for a month with ways to counter the muddiness of the carp flesh.
"We purge the fish, so we keep them in fresh water for days to weeks and feed them well; that's been changing the way they taste," Mr Deaton said.
A. Baker head chef Bernd Brademann said the way the carp was killed had an impact on taste. The best method they found was to put the fish in an ice bath to stop it "stressing out".
"It shuts down their system quite slowly, but when they get stressed, they release histamines into the meat which taints it, makes it's quite strong," Mr Brademann said.
"[Ice baths] also causes the blood to flow out of the meat and into the internal organs again which I think improves the meat."
Mr Brademann said the restaurant's trials with carp were in the "very early stages", and the fish was not yet on the menu but dishes were planned.
"The carp jerky worked well, and we tried some tempura carp that was quite lovely as well."
He sources the carp through the Invasive Animals centre's FeralFishScan program, launched by ACT Environment Minister Simon Corbell on Monday.
Inland Water Pests program leader Dr Dean Gilligan said carp were the fourth most significant pest in Australia, with their population having quadrupled over the past 20 years.
"[Carp] make up between 50-93 per cent of biomass in all the rivers, with an average of about 80 per cent," Dr Gilligan said. "If you were a farmer, and 80 per cent of your farm was taken up by rabbits, that's a major issue that would impact on your profitability as a farmer and you'd probably have your local DPI agency knocking on your door telling you to do something about it.
"That's exactly the state of our rivers, but nobody has that responsibility to act at this point in time, but that's what we're trying to change."
Dr Gilligan said the sightings reported by people through the smartphone app and website would allow the Invasive Animals centre to track carp numbers and where the fish gather to help a carp bio-control program in 2017. People are encouraged to record when they catch or see feral fish pests in the upper Murrumbidgee.
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