Slusher: The suburban angle on silverfin

The status of Lake Michigan is not a peculiarly suburban story, but with dozens of suburban communities relying on the lake for drinking water, the predictions of a coming global water shortage crisis (referenced in the Daily Herald as far back as our 2006 series "The Oil of the 21st Century") and the prospects for a $275 million project near Joliet to try to halt the Asian carp invasion, the Lake Michigan story is certainly an important one here. With that in mind, Daily Herald editor John Lampinen and I made something of an exploratory trip to a Chicago think tank last October to hear the reflections of an environmental journalist on the health of this important resource. We didn't come away with specific immediate story ideas for the Daily Herald, but we did get insights that will likely inform some of our future coverage and commentary, and we strengthened an appreciation for threats facing the lake.

We were reminded of them this week through an event that didn't get a lot of notice, but could have a significant long-term value. The event was a luncheon at the University of Illinois at which Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, of Wheaton, joined environmental experts and a cadre of chefs to tout a project aimed at promoting the culinary appeal of a fish hitherto known mostly as a dangerous nuisance.

In a press release following the luncheon, Baton Rouge, Louisiana,-based chef Philippe Parola declared that health- and food-conscious consumers could be bringing about "the beginning of the end regarding the threat this fish presents." He and other experts say Asian carp is a good source of vitamin B12, protein, Omega-3 and other nutrients. They also promise it tastes good. Let's hope they're right - though I suspect that before the trend really catches on in this country, marketers will have to replace "Asian carp" with the fish's more palatable name, silverfin, in the consumer mindset. If that happens, Parola's prediction may not be so far off. Like silverfin, the supply of Atlantic cod was once believed to be inexhaustible, until the delicacy was fished to near extinction in the mid- to late 20th century.

For experts like Dan Egan - a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and author of a new book "The Death and Life of the Great Lakes" - the threat from species like Asian carp cannot be overstated. "Invasive species ... have done more damage (than chemical and waste polluters) I would say because the lakes can heal from these traditional forms of pollution," Egan told the gathering that Lampinen and I attended last fall. "But they will have a hard time rebounding from this biological pollution."

Precisely how to put a suburban twist on the Asian carp story is something we'll have to continue to give some thought. But the U of I/Sanguinetti press release reminded me that it's certainly a topic worthy of thought, not just by newspaper editors and environmentalists but by everyday citizens as well - including, apparently, gourmets. Maybe it's time we start asking our favorite restaurants to put silverfin on the menu.

Jim Slusher,, is a deputy managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.

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