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Flying Carp and Creative Problem-Solving


Today's snack idea: catfish pizza! That's right! Sounds fishy, but tastes delicious! Broil a fillet of catfish with a little spray of butter and salt and pepper. Cut into chunks. Either prepare a homemade pizza using box directions, or toast an English muffin and spread pizza sauce on each half. Either way, top with broiled catfish chunks and a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese, and return to the broiler.




Big, ugly fish from Asia are endangering boaters and sporting fish in rivers in the heartland of America, but a creative solution promises to solve the problem.


Wait a minute - how did the big, ugly Asian fish get there in the first place? Did they stow away? Hitchhike? Parachute down from passing planes?


Asian CarpNoooo. It seems that in the 1970s, fish farmers who practice aquaculture - growing food in water, mostly fish - imported the big, ugly Asian silver carp because they are very, very good at gobbling up plankton and algae in the cultivated fish ponds in which fish farmers grow fish for profit.


Carp are bottom feeders; their dinner plates are the bottoms of ponds and rivers. They eat a lot, and the more they eat, the less there is for other species of fish and aquatic creatures to eat. So they were, like, janitors.


That was the point of introducing them to the fish farms. But somehow, some way, enough silver carp "escaped" and wound up with wild fish in the Missouri River and other rivers that drain waters from the heartland of the United States. They continued to breed and feed on local native fish, reducing their populations. Fishermen don't want to catch them, because they aren't too good to eat.


That's bad enough. But what's worse, the silver carp, which can reach 10 to 20 pounds, have a tendency to jump high in the air when startled. They would just suddenly pop up out of the water, startling boaters and something damaging boats. They literally were causing a hazard for boaters to the point at which some fishermen were having to install "carp guards" on their boats to keep from being injured by the unexpected flying fish.


So not only were they hogging the food from the fish we WANT to thrive in our rivers, they were bugging the humans who were trying to have some safe and restful recreation.


Enter in scientists from the government and universities for a little old-fashioned problem solving. And here it is: the unwanted carp from the rivers are now being harvested, processed into food, and fed to fish-eating zoo animals like penguins, sea lions and pelicans for a win-win!


Turns out the St. Louis Zoo had been buying 60 tons of fish per year (that's 60 x 2,000 to come up with the pounds of fish that represents) at a cost of 30 cents to 70 cents per pound (multiply the number of pounds of fish by an average cost per pound of 50 cents, and you'll see how much money that represents).


Zoo officials figured that they could substitute carp for the more gourmet types of fish they had been buying, up to 25 percent of the total. The carp could be ground up and various nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, could be added. It would reduce the carp populations in the rivers, nourish the zoo animals, and save the zoo money.


What's not to like about THAT?


To learn more about silver carp, search for articles about that species on the website of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,, or see this University of Missouri link:


Now, here are three ideas to stretch your thinking:


1.       Call your local zoo, ask to speak to the education director, explain that you're learning about constructive disposal of fish pests, the silver carp, by feeding them to zoo animals, and ask a question or two about innovative and more cost-effective sources of food that your zoo has been using.


2.       Write a science fiction story that explains why Asian carp are REALLY invading Midwestern American rivers. Is it a carp conspiracy to take over the country? When they do, what will happen? How will our lives change? One thing's for sure - there'll be a lot of "carping," or complaining.


3.       Visit a pet store that sells fish. Talk with the employee who knows the most about them. Ask how fish are fed in the tanks vs. how they feed in the wild. Try to determine how much the smallest and the largest fish in the store weighs, and compare those two fish to a large silver carp, which may weigh in at 20 pounds.


By Susan Darst Williams Problem-Solving 01 2008




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