“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





12 October 2011


European Carp Enjoy La Niña
Population Blooms By 4000%
Another Cruel Blow To Rivers


Australia’s bashed and buggered Murray-Darling river system, which drains 1,061,469 square kilometres of eastern Australia and supplies irrigation water for thousands of marginal bladderpack/refinery-level grape-growers, is confronted by another menace: foreign fish.

Lakes Hubs, a taxpayer-funded activist group devoted to saving the rivers’ dying estuary in South Australia, says the Carp population increased by well over 4000% in the Darling below Menindee during the 2010-2011 breeding season, which coincided with the current La Niña-triggered floods. These new fish are already infesting the Murray and vast stretches of its tributaries, and are determinedly heading downstream.

Carp populations migrate very quickly in floodwater; viable Carp eggs are commonly spread by waterbirds.

The “European” Carp, Cyprinus carpio, was first introduced to Australia in 1851. It is the world’s most widely-distributed freshwater fish. Actually a native of Asia, it quickly became an inland menace after a Singaporean strain introduced to the Murrumbidgee River in 1876 interbred with the hybrid Boolara strain introduced to Victorian rivers in 1961.

While Carp can grow bigger than one metre in length, and 60 kg in weight, most Australian examples are around 4-5 kg, but 10 kg fish are not uncommon.

Carp destroy river beds, billabongs and anabranches. Relentless omnivores, they suck insects and plants from the surface, but generally they feed like submarine vacuum cleaners, hoovering up mud and gravel from the bottom, sucking the vegetation from it, and spitting the inedible portion out. They devour native fish, microscopic algae, rotifers and crustaceans. They muddy the water to a disastrous extent, degrade natural riverbank structures, kill vast stretches of indigenous riverine vegetation, and out-compete and dominate native fish to the verge of extinction.

So Carp are outlaws. They’ve been an official noxious species under the Fisheries Management Act since 2007. If you happen to catch one, which is ridiculously easy, you are obliged by law to kill it.

Australians refuse to eat Carp. They regard it as vermin, much as they regarded rabbits and kangaroos in the past. It has an unusual second row of ribs which make it tricky to fillet, but its greasiness makes it perfect to smoke, and it makes the best ever yellow fish curry if you have a lazy bottle of Viognier seeking a meal to park itself on. I have been amused on various occasions to see it spread on tables at the wicked little street market on the Rue de Buci on the Left Bank in Paris. The market seems to specialize in crustaceans and molluscs, but the Carp is often the most expensive fish there.

If the floods continue to drain away, countless thousands of tonnes of Carp will beach and rot. But should the forecast La Niña summer eventuate, there could well be more floods which will see a reboubling of the population and the damage go extreme.

So there’s another little challenge for Australia, and particularly for those who boast that the Murray-Darling is such a bounteous food and wine bowl that its totally unsustainable irrigation regimes should be permitted to continue: find a way of using this damn fish. You could train Australia to eat it, make a million tonnes of cat food, ferment it to make fish emulsion fertiliser to nourish some of the arid land you’ve devoured … get thinkin’!

Otherwise, if you really do imagine the rivers are back to normal after such an inconvenient drought, you can ignore the Carp. Then, as you gradually realize the second wettest vintage in history (2011) was not very normal at all, and the outback and the Mallee gradually go off as millions of tonnes of rotting fish add their piquant carrion tweak to the desert air, you could think about it all in restrospect. Again.

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