Exotic fish and chips?

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Fancy some Silver carp to go with your chips? This seemingly far-fetched scenario may not be as ludicrous as it seems, if researchers from Bournemouth University have their way.

In an effort to reduce the fishing pressure on heavily exploited marine species and to place greater reliance on fish species that are sustainably farmed, a research project entitled 'Aquaculture for Conservation' is being spearheaded by student Sean Graham of the Department of Conservation Ecology at Bournemouth University.

The project seeks to overturn dining prejudices in turning to exotic Asian freshwater fish species such as Silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) and Pangasius (Pangasius bocourti) as alternatives to popular food fish such as cod, salmon and trout.

Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) is a species native to eastern Asia and its pink flesh may be used as a substitute for salmon while the mild, white flesh of the Silver carp and Pangasius (native to East and Southeast Asia respectively) are suitable alternatives to cod.

As these exotic species are largely herbivorous, they can be farmed more sustainably than salmon and trout, which need to be fed pellets made from wild sea fish. In such cases, it can take as much as 4 kg of wild sea fish to produce 1 kg of salmon or trout.

The researchers believe that farming the exotic species more sustainably in reservoirs has the additional benefit of clearing both aquatic plants that threaten to choke waterways and potentially toxic algae.

To this end, a pilot study to farm these fish in a UK reservoir is being attempted.

The exotic species have already received a stamp of approval from consumers in a blind taste test conducted in June. Of the 100 consumers served unidentified samples of battered fish, 39% favoured the Pangasius, 16% favoured the Silver carp, while 43% preferred the more traditional cod.

According to Sean, "People tend to buy fish on the basis of familiarity, rather than evaluating it as a sustainable product and finding out if alternative more sustainable fish could provide similar tastes, lower costs and better long term prospects for the planet."

"Our work has shown that consumers are accepting of these alternative species and in some cases actually prefer the taste," he added.

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