This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
Among most Rock Islanders, the carp has a low reputation. If you invite a dozen of your friends over for a grand carp barbeque, ten will not show up. The other two will not only not show up—you will never hear from them again.
We classify carp as a rough fish, along with suckers and buffalo, with even uglier mouths than their cousins the goldfish, and way out-of-proportion as the largest member of the minnow family. For boys, the carp feeding in shallow water make good target practice. In many states, anglers cannot legally throw carp they have caught back into the water.
Is there any way to treat a fish prized by British and Russian anglers, a delicacy in Europe, Asia, and in the southern United States? Isaac Walton in The Complete Angler, called carp the Queen of Rivers, a “subtle fish, hard to be caught.”
Carp are native to Asia. Eight-three of them were imported to America in 1872, and their descendants distributed by state game departments to serve as the basis for commercial fishing. Now, they clog nearly every river.
Even under the turned-up noses of Rock Islanders, carp are being commercially fished. Several million pounds of carp are hauled in each year from the Upper Mississippi and sent to Chicago and New York markets, and to Europe and Asia.
There are those in our midst who defend the carp. Tom Dixon of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources claims Midwesterners prefer walleyed pike over carp only because of our Scandinavian preference for the bland. “Walleye tastes like tofu,” he said, “compared to the heavily flavored carp.” He points to the carp’s versatility—equally useful as a delicacy, as fertilizer, or as a binder for glue.
Bud Ramer of Ramer’s Fish Market in Winona, Minnesota, a longtime carp advocate, has another reason for pushing carp. “They’re not going to go away,” he says. “Might as well start eating them.” Until all of us are similarly enlightened, however, it’s not likely we’ll be invited to a political fund-raising carp feed any time soon.
Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.