Invasive Fish Becomes Nutritious Dish for Haitians in Need
May 2, 2012
Contact: Roy Kron/Louisiana Sea Grant, 225-578-6564 or Linda Joy/NOAA, 301-734-1165
Hundreds of thousands of Haitians died, were injured, or lost their homes in a devastating January 2010 earthquake. Many of the survivors continue to struggle to overcome their losses – among them, the young residents of the Zanmi Beni home for orphaned children.
More than 1,000 miles away, the invasive Asian carp has found its way into the lower Mississippi, Red and Ouachita rivers and the Atchafalaya Basin where it threatens to out-compete native fish for food and habitat. These fish are a common incidental catch in the hoop nets of Louisiana’s commercial freshwater fishermen.
Some innovative thinking is now turning the problem fish into a high-quality protein source for the children at Zanmi Beni, run by Operation Blessing International. Researchers at NOAA’s Louisiana Sea Grant program and the Louisiana State University (LSU) AgCenter have successfully produced canned Asian carp pleasing to the Haitian palate. Ultimately, the product could deliver high-quality protein to people in need, be a boon to fishermen, provide a new opportunity for canneries, and reduce the population of an unwanted invasive species.
The project began when Julie Anderson, a fisheries specialist with Louisiana Sea Grant and the LSU AgCenter, met Bill Horan, Operation Blessing International’s president and chief operating officer. Operation Blessing is a non-denominational Christian humanitarian organization providing disaster aid in the United States and 23 other countries. The group did extensive work in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. Horan and Anderson were introduced at an event celebrating Operation Blessings’ efforts to help New Orleans area soft-shell crab producers rebuild their shedding facilities.
"There are so many people in Haiti who are protein-starved and would love to have fish. The favorite fish meal is a canned sardine in tomato sauce. We have a children’s home with 47 disabled orphans. We thought that would be a good place with the kids and the staff to try the carp," Horan said.
"It was great to connect with Bill and Operation Blessing,” said Anderson. “This is an exciting opportunity to use an underutilized and sometimes misunderstood fish to feed people in need. We quickly marshaled resources at LSU to create this pilot project. We are now looking for ways to expand production."
The Highway 1 Fish Market in Simmesport, La., donated about 100 pounds of Asian carp for the initial trial. Anderson contacted her colleague Lucina Lampila, an associate professor and seafood specialist with Louisiana Sea Grant and LSU's Department of Food Science, to coordinate canning. LSU food science graduate student Matt Cael devised a tomato sauce recipe to replicate the one used in the Haitian sardine dish.
The test run produced about 75 cans of fish. Anderson sent carp packed with and without sauce, and Operation Blessing workers delivered them to St. Damien Pediatric Hospital in Port-Au-Prince. About 20 people sampled the fish. David Darg, Operation Blessing’s director of Disaster Relief reported, "We had the cooks from the hospital in on the test, and they were very impressed. The conclusion is that they could serve this to people at breakfast, lunch, and dinner with no complaints."
With this success, Operation Blessing would like to move forward by purchasing enough canned carp to fill a 40-foot shipping container. Louisiana Sea Grant and the LSU AgCenter now are working to meet this tall order.
Horan, an avid recreational fisherman, is enthusiastic. "The idea of using this scourge of American waters is wonderful," he said. "If we could show these fish are good to eat, we could create jobs and feed people."
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On the Web:
Operation Blessing International: http://www.ob.org
Louisiana Sea Grant: http://www.laseagrant.org