The FDA should check with chef Philippe Parola before it decides whether to approve consumption of fast-growing genetically engineered salmon in the U.S. He’s the guy trying to commercialize Asian carp, a species so prolific Midwest boaters and fishermen literally have to beat them off with baseball bats. Either fish could provide a low-cost seafood option for your restaurant.
Genetic engineering (GE) has already been used to produce plant crops eaten by U.S. consumers. Salmon would be the first instance of GE used to produce animals meant for the dinner table. Skeptics have questions about what’s going to happen when biotechnology and aquaculture intersect to produce living creatures.
Salmon supplier AquaBounty Technologies offers many assurances its fish are safe to eat. Opponents dub the GE salmon “Frankenfish,” suggesting they could lead to unanticipated health problems when consumed by humans or, should they escape confinement, wreak havoc on wild fish stocks. FDA approval, if it comes, would be many months down the road.
And speaking of wreaking havoc on wild fish stocks, let’s look at the Asian carp. They so threaten the Great Lakes ecosystem that President Barack Obama has already appointed a “carp czar,” John Goss, and given him an $80 million budget. Goss’s job is to keep the Asian carp, which now infests the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, from migrating up into the Great Lakes and destroying fisheries there. Check out this YouTube video to see what Goss is up against.
Even the politicians are on board with carp eradication. "When it comes to the Asian carp threat, we are not in denial,” Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin says. “We are not in a go-slow mode. We are in a full attack, full-speed ahead mode. We want to stop this carp from advancing."
Maybe both the FDA and the carp czar should give chef Parola a call. If he can commercialize the super-abundant Asian carp species, he’d solve both their problems. The U.S. would gain an abundant supply of fast-growing inexpensive seafood, negating the need to risk GE salmon. Vigorous harvesting would help control the hyper-prolific carp and make it much less likely to spread.
Parola is an expert on this carp species, having developed a process that gets rid of the floating bones that inhabit the fish’s filets and having figured out other key handling protocols. You can read the background of his involvement with Asian carp here.
Right now, he’s working with a group of Memphis-based investors who want to open a carp processing plant in a 13,000 sq.-ft. building in Grafton, IL. They plan to invest between $3 and $5 million. Given the amount of money the government has committed to throwing at this problem, they’re certainly picking the right time to ask for a loan.
But is there a market for Asian carp? Parola, a chef/consultant from Baton Rouge, LA, can barely contain his enthusiasm. He told the St. Louis Business Journal the fish produces a mild white meat whose taste and texture resemble a cross between crabmeat and scallops. He projects it would sell for $6 a pound in fillet form and could also be used in surimi-type applications.
“There is no such thing as a bad fish,” he said. “Especially when you tour the seafood market in Tokyo at 3:30 in the morning. That’s when you learn that any fish, in any color, you can eat it.” Asian carp, he says, “is a good fish, and it tastes good and it’s good for you. If it were a lousy piece of fish, I’d be out of here in a second.”
But it’s definitely going to need a name change before it can be sold into foodservice. Parola and his partners are hoping to go with “silver fin,” something they lobbied for at least week’s Asian Carp Marketing Summit held at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, IL. If the Patagonian toothfish could be reborn with great success as the Chilean sea bass, surely something similar could be worked out for the Asian carp.
Should either genetically engineered salmon or Asian carp make it into the foodservice distribution chain, full-service operators will be able to tap an abundant new source of modestly priced seafood. If both work out, it could be a game-changer for the seafood category.