Want to know how to eat Great Lakes fish? – Great Lakes now


Tens of millions of Great Lakes fish are caught and kept each year by recreational anglers, and it is common knowledge that the vast majority of them suffer the same culinary fate: fillets coated in some kind of breading or dipped in batter, then fried in oil.

Walleye and yellow perch are the two species most affected by this fate.

But groups and individuals in the region have recently been working on projects to encourage this culinary path and expand the scope of eating Great Lakes fish and game.

On Governor’s Fish Ohio Day 2021 in Port Clinton, Ohio Division of Wildlife Chief Kendra Wecker defended her department’s new mobile kitchen as employees worked diligently to keep a crowd of more than 100 people supplied with an oatmeal menu of cheddar cheese, charred pickerel and fried pickerel bites. She laughed when asked if she was trying to bankrupt local food trucks.

“You can’t stay in business if your prices are too low,” she joked. “And our prizes are free, so we’re not actually in business.”

The division’s new mobile kitchen will travel the state offering free fish and game in an effort to attract new participants to outdoor activities.

“One of our goals is to meet new people who may not already be hunters, fishers or trappers,” Wecker said. “We really want to hook them through their stomachs and taste buds.”

Wecker said the trailer, which includes a full kitchen setup for prep work and on-site cooking, was planned before the pandemic, though it just began its journey this year.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and First Lady Fran get in on the walleye-biting action. (Photo credit: James Proffitt)

Local contributors, local targets

Matt Leibengood is ODW’s Lake Erie Law Enforcement Supervisor and Ken Fry is one of their Outdoor Skills Specialists, though Ohio Fishing Day at the Shores and Islands Visitor’s Center, they went through Chef Leibengood and Chef Fry instead.

“Right now we’re looking at specific events, venues with very specific target audiences,” Fry said. “One of the audiences that we’ve identified as a good candidate is the younger clientele that really appreciates finding food locally. They are often called locavores. So we’ve taken it to farmers markets where we think we may be able to 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 crucial to funding Ohio’s wildlife management and habitat improvement programs.

Fry said he hosts cooking classes in addition to tasting events and that has been well received so far. It all started with a pop-up tent and a pickup truck at the 2019 Jefferson County Fair. It was so well received, he said, that his supervisor told him to run with it.

“I’ve been looking at local businesses, thinking about bringing in their chefs and having cooking competitions, I think that would be a lot of fun,” Fry said.

Wecker said the ingredients for the operation came from a variety of sources, including evidence in closed wildlife-related criminal cases and purchases from commercial operations.

“We have some remaining evidence, and we’re using some of our sampling efforts as well,” she said. “A 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 wild game to the chiefs.

After Fish Ohio Day, Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine became a fan of the kitchen and its dishes, so much so that she wrote a column for the Xenia Daily Gazette and shared the oatmeal recipes. gold and blackened cheddar she slipped into Leibengood and Fry.

More information on obtaining wild fish or game and how to cook and store it can be found at Wild Ohio Harvest Community or the DOW’s official wildohioharvest Youtube channel cookbook.

Ohio Wildlife Division staff serve sauger and walleye bites. (Photo credit: James Proffitt)

Grant funds two-year aquaculture effort

A similar operation has sprung up across the Great Lakes in Minnesota, though its online focus means its reach extends much further.

The Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative produces a cooking video series called Fish to Fork. The first episode features Peter Fritsch of Rushing Waters Fisheries preparing and frying a whole rainbow trout. The second episode features Wisconsin and Michigan Sea Grant employees cleaning whole fish, filleting fish, cleaning whole fresh shrimp and then grilling them.

“We also held a live online cooking contest at our last annual event,” said Amy Schrank, fisheries and aquaculture extension educator at Minnesota Sea Grant. “One of the things we find in reaching out to our aquaculture partners is that people aren’t quite sure how to cook seafood in general. So trying to educate consumers is one place where a need has been identified through our relationships with producers. We try to tell people how to cook seafood in general, why it’s healthy and where it comes from.

The Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative was created to develop and promote aquaculture in the Great Lakes region through a $1 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to Sea Grant programs in all eight Great Lakes states. Fish to Fork is just one of the projects funded by this grant.

“The fundamental goal is really to create a connected and informed regional group, not only with the people of Sea Grant, but also with aquaculturists to create an industry that is environmentally friendly, competitive and sustainable.” Schrank said.

She said people are often confused when they hear the term ‘aquaculture’ because they often think of pens along shorelines.

“When we talk about aquaculture in the Great Lakes, we’re not talking about aquaculture physically in the lakes,” Shrank explained. “We are not talking about net pen aquaculture as we imagine in the oceans. It’s all land-based aquaculture with a real focus on recirculating systems, so it’s like an indoor thing.

In the GLAC definition, aquaculture includes the production of finfish, shrimp, baitfish, stock fish and ornamental fish.

She said aquaculture producers are not in competition with commercial fishing operations or with 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, assisting producers to identify and carry out research, and helping to guide regulatory and policy changes favorable to the industry. The GLAC Project Summary also includes language that clearly establishes a goal of protecting water quality in lakes and sport fishing operators.

Tory Gabriel, Fishing Awareness Coordinator for Ohio Sea Grant, recently spent a day at the Winous Point Shooting Club’s annual event, Day on the Wild Side. There he gave the children a quick training on how to clean fresh fish. As new groups roamed his fish cleaning station every hour of the day, he pulled fresh fish out of a cooler and cleaned it from start to finish.

All the ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’ were accompanied by pointed observations and questions like “What is this?” and ‘Can you eat that?’

“That’s what some people call walleye wings,” Gabriel said as he carved a fish. “Just make a cut here and there, and you cut that and it’s a big piece of meat.”

This was followed by a brief discussion of omega-3 fatty acids (good) and lean meat (good) and heavy metals (bad), then a tutorial on storing and freezing fresh fish.

Gabriel answered the barrage of questions from the kids then shared his homemade tartar sauce recipe.

“Lots of onions, lots of pickles, fresh dill and mayonnaise – that’s a nice thing,” he said with a smile as he finished his presentation.

Charter captain catch and cook

Port Clinton Charter Captain Ross Robertson is a longtime Lake Erie walleye fisherman and no stranger to creating fishing videos and podcasts. Stories of his fishing exploits have been featured 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 fisherman Joe Gibson.

“We do fishing stuff with tips and tricks, but I hear a lot of guys say, ‘Man, I fry fish, that’s what I do. I don’t want to waste my gold trying something new,” he said. “So we kind of do that for them.”

Robertson said his short videos were popular and he asked people to be invited so they could share old family recipes. Recent videos include cold walleye salad, bacon-wrapped walleye grinders, parmesan-crusted walleye and walleye chowder.

Robertson said he just finished a video made with five fishermen staying in a rented house in the Port Clinton area.

“They wanted something simple to do with their fish, something without a thousand ingredients and simple enough for guys who aren’t culinary experts and had a little different twist,” he said. “A lot of them were just replacing the walleye with something else in a popular dish. One recipe that everyone seems to love is walleye cakes. I hope these videos will give people the confidence to try this stuff for themselves.


Catch more Great Lakes news now:

Thousand Island Dressing Mystery: Uncertain Origins of One of America’s Favorite Dressings

Fish, propane, money: not everyone likes Enbridge’s generosity in the strait

Fish farming: A look at how a fish hatchery is helping restore native Great Lakes species

The Farmory: Is indoor fish farming a viable way to combat declining fish populations?


Feature Image: Tory Gabriel of Ohio Sea Grant provides a tutorial on how to clean, fillet and store freshly caught fish to children attending the 2021 Wild Side Day in Ottawa County. (Photo credit: James Proffitt)

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