Tens of millions of Great Lakes fish are caught and kept every year by sport fishermen, and it is common knowledge that the vast majority of them suffer the same culinary fate: fillets coated with some sort of breadcrumbs or soaked in a batter, then fried in oil.
Walleye and yellow perch are the two species that suffer the most from this fate.
But groups and individuals in the region have recently been working on projects to encourage this culinary route and expand the reach of Great Lakes fish and game consumption.
At Governor’s Fool’s Day 2021 in Ohio in Port Clinton, Ohio, Division Wildlife Chief Kendra Wecker championed her department’s new mobile kitchen as employees diligently worked to cater a crowd of over 100 with a menu of cheddar porridge. , walleye and fried walleye bites. She laughed when asked if she was trying to bankrupt local food trucks.
âYou can’t stay in business if your prices are too low,â she joked. “And our prizes are free, so we’re not really in business.”
The division’s new mobile kitchen will travel across the state and offer free fish and game treats in an effort to attract new participants to the outdoors.
âOne of our goals is to meet new people who may not already be hunters, anglers or trappers,â said Wecker. “We really want to hook them through their stomachs and their taste buds.”
Wecker said the trailer, which includes a full kitchen for prep work and on-site cooking, was planned ahead of the pandemic, although it is only just beginning its travels this year.
Local contributors, local targets
Matt Leibengood is ODW’s Lake Erie Law Enforcement Supervisor and Ken Fry is one of their Outdoor Skills Specialists, although on Fish Ohio Day at the Shores and Islands Visitor’s Center , they went through Chef Leibengood and Chef Fry.
âRight now we’re looking at specific events, places with very specific target audiences,â Fry said. âOne of the audiences we’ve identified as a good fit is the younger crowd who really enjoy finding food locally. They are often called locovores. So we took it to farmers markets where we think maybe we can convince many that fishing and hunting are great ways to source protein locally.
According to Wecker, with sales of hunting and trapping licenses declining in recent years, the increase in numbers is critical to funding Ohio’s wildlife management and habitat improvement programs.
Fry said he runs cooking classes in addition to tasting events and that has been well received so far. It all started with a pop-up tent and van at the Jefferson County Fair in 2019. It was so well received, he said, that his supervisor told him to run with it.
âI looked at local businesses, thought about bringing their chefs in and doing cooking contests, I think that would be a lot of fun,â Fry said.
Wecker said the ingredients for the operation came from a variety of sources, including evidence in wildlife-related criminal cases that have been closed and purchases from commercial operations.
âWe have remaining evidence, and we are also using some of our sampling efforts,â she said. âA lot of times we provide it to food banks, although no matter what, we never want to waste it. “
Ohio hunters, including DOW staff, donated deer, doves, waterfowl, squirrels and other game to the chefs.
After Fish Ohio Day, Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine became a fan of the cuisine and its dishes, so much so that she wrote a column for the Xenia Daily Gazette and shared the walleye and cheddar oatmeal recipes she slipped from Leibengood and Fry.
Grant funds two-year aquaculture effort
A similar operation has emerged across the Great Lakes in Minnesota, although its online orientation means its reach extends much further.
The Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaboration produces a series of cooking videos called Fish to Fork. In the first episode, Peter Fritsch of Rushing Waters Fisheries prepares and fry a whole rainbow trout. The second episode features staff from Wisconsin and Michigan Sea Grant cleaning the whole fish, filleting the fish, cleaning fresh whole shrimp, and then grilling them.
âWe also had a live online cooking contest at our last annual event,â said Amy Schrank, fisheries and aquaculture extension educator with the Minnesota Sea Grant. âOne of the things we see when contacting our aquaculture partners is that people are not sure how to cook seafood in general. So trying to educate consumers is one place where a need has been identified through our links with producers. We try to tell people how to cook seafood in general, why it is healthy and where it comes from.
The Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative was created to develop and promote aquaculture in the Great Lakes region with a $ 1 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to Sea Grant programs in the eight Great Lakes states. Fish to Fork is just one of the projects funded by this grant.
âThe basic goal is really to create a connected and informed regional group, not only with the people of Sea Grant, but also with the aquaculturists to create an environmentally friendly, competitive and sustainable industry. Said Schrank.
She said people are often confused when they hear the term âaquacultureâ because they often think of pens along the shores.
âWhen we talk about Great Lakes aquaculture, we are not talking about aquaculture physically in the lakes,â Shrank explained. âWe don’t talk about net pen aquaculture the way we think about the oceans. It’s a land-based aquaculture with a real focus on recirculation systems, so it’s like an inside thing.
In the definition of GLAC, aquaculture includes the production of fish, shrimp, baitfish, stocking fish and ornamental fish.
She said aquaculture producers do not compete with commercial fishing operations or other fish from the lakes. In addition, durability is a key factor. One of the main differences is that aquaculture does not remove fish from wild populations.
GLAC’s objectives include identifying cutting-edge knowledge in aquaculture, helping producers identify and complete their research, and help guide regulatory and policy changes favorable to the industry. The GLAC project summary also includes language that clearly establishes an objective of protecting water quality in lakes and sport fishing operators.
Tory Gabriel, Fisheries Awareness Coordinator with Ohio Sea Grant, recently spent a day at Winous Point Shooting Club annual event, Wild side day. There, he offered the children a quick education on cleaning fresh fish. As new groups roamed his fish cleaning station hourly throughout the day, he took fresh fish out of a cooler and cleaned it from start to finish.
All the “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” were accompanied by specific observations and questions such as “What is this?” And ‘Can you eat this?’
âIt’s what some people call walleye wings,â said Gabriel, munching on a fish. “Just make a cut right there and right here, and you cut it and it’s a big chunk of meat.”
This was followed by a brief discussion of omega-3 fatty acids (good) and lean meat (good) and heavy metals (bad), followed by a tutorial on storing and freezing fresh fish.
Gabriel answered the multitude of questions from the children and then shared his recipe for homemade tartar sauce.
âLots of onions, lots of pickles, fresh dill and mayonnaise – that’s a beautiful thing,â he said with a smile as he finished his presentation.
The charter captain catches and cooks
Charter captain in Port Clinton Ross robertson is a long-time Lake Erie walleye fisherman and no stranger to creating fishing videos and podcasts. Stories about his fishing exploits have been published in numerous magazines and outlets. In a slight change of direction in 2019, he hired a professional videographer and started shooting cooking videos with longtime friend and angler Joe Gibson.
âWe do fishing stuff with tips and tricks, but I hear a lot of guys say, ‘Dude, I fry fish, that’s what I do. I don’t want to waste my gold trying something new, âhe said. âSo we kind of do it for them. “
Robertson said his short videos are popular, and people ask him to be guests so he can share old family recipes. Recent videos include cold walleye salad, bacon wrapped walleye windmills, golden in a parmesan crust and walleye chowder.
Robertson said he had just completed a video made with five anglers staying at a rented house in the Port Clinton area.
âThey wanted something simple to make with their fish, something without a thousand ingredients and simple enough for guys who aren’t culinary experts and have a little different touch,â he said. âA lot of them were just replacing walleye with something else in a popular dish. One recipe everyone seems to love is walleye cakes. Hopefully these videos will give people the confidence to try this stuff out for themselves. “
To learn more about the Great Lakes now:
Mystery of the Thousand Island dressing: the uncertain origins of one of America’s favorite sauces
Fish, propane, cash: not everyone likes Enbridge’s bounty in the Strait
Fish farming: an overview of how a hatchery helps restore native Great Lakes species
The Farmory: Is indoor fish farming a viable way to combat declining fish populations?
Featured Image: Tory Gabriel of the Ohio Sea Grant offers a tutorial on how to clean, fillet and preserve freshly caught fish to children attending Wild Side Day 2021 in Ottawa County. (Photo credit: James Proffitt)