OTTUMWA, Iowa -- If you take a boat down any of the main rivers or lakes in Iowa, there's a chance you'll encounter a certain type of fish - out of the water.
The Silver Carp is an invasive species of fish found in parts of the Midwest and Iowa, and the vibration of a motorboat on the water can cause them to jump out, and potentially land in your boat.
But the Iowa DNR says too many people are throwing them back in, rather than keeping them, and that's becoming a problem for our native fish species. The Silver Carp feeds on bacteria Iowa's native fish need to survive. And with a $1.2 billion fishing, hunting and gaming industry in the state, the DNR says convincing Iowans to catch and cook this type of fish is crucial to sustaining Iowa's economy.
"They grow very big, very fast. They can grow up to a hundred pounds, even in Iowa," said Joe Larscheid, chief of Fisheries for the Iowa DNR said. "And they're very abundant in our large river systems. The problem is, they're planktivores, meaning they filter the water - those tiny crustaceans that our other fish need - so they directly compete with our other fish. So it's like weeds in a garden - you can only have so much fish in a system."
To counter the difficult bone structure of the Silver Carp, the DNR has teamed up with Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa to educate the public on how they can prepare, cook, and serve this fish. High school teams from across Iowa compete at the school's Culinary Arts department twice a year. The winners of these cooking competitions earn scholarship money to attend the school. The DNR asked Indian Hills Community College to make the Silver Carp a primary ingredient in this year's competition, held Friday morning.
"You've got a lot of bones there," said department director, Chef Gordon Rader. "Now, traditionally, that means flavor, and it's true - the fish is great. It's clean, it's crisp, it holds up, it marinates. Let's talk about, 200 pounds of live-weight, you're probably going to get about three pounds of usable product. For most folks, they want something boneless. But if you can get past the bone-piece, it's a great fish."
Students from Eddyville-Blakesburg High School won the competition Friday. From here, DNR officials hope young cooks will make this fish a popular dish across the state.
“This is a resource that can be exploited," Larscheid said. "These are non-native fish that are here and we want people to use them. What we don’t want is for these fish to expand into new areas because they can negatively impact existing fish populations.”