Move over beef; come January there will be a new jerky in Toronto, made entirely from an invasive fish species found in Mexico. And its introduction has got some people thinking Asian carp could also show up on the menu sometime soon.
The snack, El Diablito, is the brainchild of Sam Bordia, who wanted to do something with the scaly suckermouth catfish after seeing how it took over Mexican riverways.
"It's done a lot of damage in terms of fishermen's livelihood because the native species they normally catch can't find food to eat because [the suckermouth catfish] is eating all their food," said Bordia, head of operations for a business called Acari Fish.
There's a lot of stigma around the hard-shelled bottom-feeder, mainly because of the way it looks, says Bordia, but the meat is quite versatile and can be used as a substitute for ground beef or turkey.
"The goal of our company is really to try and create an economic ecosystem around the fish that has previously been viewed as a scourge in southern Mexico," said Bordia.
El Diablito, which means "the little devil" in Spanish, will be launching in Canada before anywhere else and the introduction of the dried fish product is already raising the question whether other invasive species can be turned into food.
The big one under the microscope is Asian carp, an invader that's got authorities on the alert on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. It has already infiltrated many bodies of water in the U.S. and is heading north. Canada's Invasive Species Centre is on the lookout.
U.S. stores sell Asian carp
"It's something that we're very worried about. They have huge appetites and they out-compete native species for food and resources," said Rebecca Schroeder, who is the centre's aquatic invasive species liaison.
The fish hasn't made it into the Great Lakes yet and although it is edible, Schroeder warns against adding it to the Canadian diet.
"We don't want to create a market for something that isn't here because it can increase the likelihood of introduction into the environment," said Schroeder.
In parts of the U.S. where the fish is present, some restaurants and fish markets have it on the menu. Dirk's Fish and Gourmet Shop, located in Chicago, has been selling Asian carp since 2009.
Since the fish has a lot of bones, the shop's owner and head fishmonger Dirk Fucik says the best way to prepare it is to grind the meat so that it can be formed into patties.
Even though the shop gives out free burgers during the summer, the carp is still surrounded by a lot of stigma.
"We only sell about 500 pounds of it a year," said Fucik. "When people think of carp we think about dirty bottom feeding muddy kind of fish… but the Asian carp actually feeds on plankton, so it's a clean fish."
As for El Diablito, Bordia hopes launching it in Canada where there's no stigma attached to the fish will help sales.