Carp have taken a bum rap in Utah, but they are a cheap, plentiful and tasty source of protein, says the director of a fish co-op for low-income Utahns.

"There are certain groups in town that have eaten carp traditionally," said Nick Hershenow, director of the program. People from southeast Asia, eastern Europe and the South and Midwest areas of the United States are familiar with carp on the dinner table.More important, the fish are plentiful in Utah and through the fish co-op they are available to low-income families in the Salt Lake Valley.

"It's another source of protein," he said. "It's another option that can help make things easier for them."

The program is co-sponsored by the Crossroads Urban Center and the New Hope Multi-Cultural Center, and has provided about 4,500 pounds of carp this year. A membership in the fish co-op costs $3, and the member can take home 40 pounds of fish in lots of 15 pounds per trip. At 8 cents a pound, said Hershenow, carp is a bargain.

Carp suffer a bad reputation because they are found in waters that are considered dirty, said Hershenow. Carp are hardy fish that can live in foul water, but they feed off the bottom and eat the same insects as local trout.

The program catches carp in local waters in the summer and buys them from Utah Lake commercial fishermen in the winter. The carp are kept in small holding pools for about a week to improve the flavor, he said. They are fresh-killed when they are sold. Fish that are not sold after several months are used for fertilizer in a community garden program, said Hershenow.

The program is designed to help low-income people, and others should pay a fee more in line with their income, he said.

The carp average about 4 to 5 pounds, and can be cooked a variety of ways. The meat is particularly good smoked, said Hershenow, because it is an oily fish. It does need to be prepared carefully because it is quite bony.

The co-op distributes the fish at the Crossroads Urban Center, 347 S. Fourth East, from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays; at the New Hope Center, 1102 W. Fourth North, from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays and noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays; and at 3173 Branden Drive from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays.