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Chef transforms destructive invasive animal into gourmet delight: 'We could eat the problem'

"The solution is simple, and it is free. You just eat it."

"We always talk about problems and think of expensive solutions ... But with this, the solution is simple, and it is free. You just eat it."

Photo Credit: iStock

Dealing with invasive species can be quite a hassle, as they can be physically demanding, time-consuming, and complex. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, chef Philippe Parola has devised a simple plan to curb the numbers of the carp that have infested the Mississippi River Basin: eat them.

The French-born Parola believes that cooking the invasive species terrorizing Louisiana's fragile ecosystems, like nutrias and feral hogs, could serve as a multifaceted solution. His grandest visions are reserved for carp, though, which he thinks could help ease hunger issues, reduce the costs of school lunch programs, and create jobs in the fishing industry.

"This fish is a big problem, but it's food, man! We could feed millions with it," Parola told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. "If the government helped build a processing plant, we wouldn't need that friggin' barrier. We could eat the problem!"

The barrier Parola spoke of is a $1.2 billion plan proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent carp from entering Lake Michigan. However, it wouldn't fully solve the crisis of a population that has ballooned out of control.

The first carp were brought from China during the 1970s to help alleviate the algae problems in ponds and wastewater facilities in Illinois, Arkansas, and Alabama. A few escaped, allowing them to overburden waterways in Louisiana like the Atchafalaya, Red, and Sabine Rivers just a decade later.

What makes carp so devastating is how quickly they can mature, their size, and the rate at which they reproduce. According to the Invasive Species Centre, some subspecies of carp can live at least 15 years and consume 40% of their body weight daily in food. They can also produce around 2 million eggs a year.

Adult carp can measure in at 5 feet and 150 pounds, making them a hazard to people when they leap out of the water. Below the surface, the stomach-less fish can wipe ecosystems clean of algae and leave nothing but feces in their wake. 

"They are eating constantly and s******* constantly," Parola said. "And they leave nothing for the other fish."

Thus, Parola believes the best option to reduce the carp population is to eat the fish he considers to be "better than catfish" and have a "very clean taste."

Parola's previous efforts to bring the fish to the mainstream over the past decade have been unsuccessful, but he remains undeterred. He's published a book with recipes for more than 40 invasive plants and animals and revamped his website to help popularize "invasivorism."

"We always talk about problems and think of expensive solutions," he said. "But with this, the solution is simple, and it is free. You just eat it."

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