- - Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Asian carp has a broken heart, or at least bruised feelings, but it has friends in Minnesota. The legislature there last week rescued the critter from the scourge of zoological racism.

The Asian carp is native to Vietnam and was cultivated in China for over a millennium before it was introduced to the United States. Aquaculture scientists were struck one day in the ‘70s with the bright idea of using the species, like the catfish a bottom feeder but with none of the rakish charm of the Dixie dweller, to keep wastewater-treatment retention ponds clean. Because of flooding, a few of the crafty fish escaped, eventually reaching the Mississippi River, which they now call home sweet home. The carp has since spread to surrounding water throughout Illinois and Missouri, and the experts are puzzling over how to eliminate the infestation. The carp, meanwhile, continues on its way through perilous territory toward the Great Lakes.

The Asian carp is a pest. It grows quite large, up to 110 pounds, and bullies other fish in the stream. The sight of hundreds of the heavy fish leaping high out of the water, even flopping into boats and sometimes smacking passengers, has become common. The fish gobbles down all the available fish food in the stream. Controlling the carp and its voracious appetite has become a priority of conservationists. And now the Minnesota legislators have figured out a way to banish the Asian carp once and for all. They’ve renamed it. It’s no longer an Asian carp, it’s “invasive carp.”

The change, part of a natural-resources bill, is currently in a conference committee, where differences between the state House and Senate versions are being worked out. Once the final bill is signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, the Minnesota commissioner of natural resources will be forever prohibited from using the phrase “Asian carp.” He must say “invasive carp” in any proposed law, rule or official document — or face the wrath of legislators.

State Sen. John Hoffman, the Democrat who championed the measure, says the name “Asian” may be geographically correct, but it’s not fair to the fish. “Caucasians brought them to America,” said Mr. Hoffman. “Should we call them ‘Caucasian carp?’ They have names. Let’s call them what they are.” His politically correct colleagues agreed that it’s important to end the abuse of this fish.

Minnesota law, alas, won’t help the carp once it gets to Illinois, where, once it swims across the state line, it will be an Asian carp again. It might even wind up on the menu at Dirk’s Fish in Chicago. Dirk Fucik, who spells his name carefully, says the way to treat a carp is with 2 tablespoons of fresh garlic, half a teaspoon of nutmeg, a few grinds of black pepper and a touch of oregano. “We should all embrace the use of Asian carp for food,” he says. “It’s a great, lean, low-fat protein and being a problem invasive species, eating it is a great solution.”