Ten million fish from the Great Lakes are caught and held by recreational anglers each year, and it is well known that the vast majority of them suffer the same culinary fate: fillets that are coated in a type of breading or dipped in batter and then fried Oil.
Pikeperch and yellow perch are the two species that suffer this fate the most.
But groups and individuals in the area have recently been working on projects aimed at promoting this culinary path and expanding the levels of fish and game consumption from the Great Lakes.
Ohio Division of Wildlife Chief Kendra Wecker defended her department’s new mobile kitchen at Governor’s Fish Ohio Day 2021 in Port Clinton. She laughed when asked if she was trying to put local food trucks out of business.
âYou can’t stay in business if your prices are too low,â she quipped. “And our prices are free, so we’re not really in business.”
The division’s new mobile kitchen will travel across the state offering free fish and game dishes to attract new entrants to outdoor activities.
âOne of our goals is to get to know new people who may not be hunters or anglers or trappers yet,â says Wecker. “We really want to rip them through their stomachs and taste buds.”
Wecker said the trailer, which offers full kitchen facilities for on-site prep and cooking, was scheduled before the pandemic, although it didn’t start its journey until this year.
Local contributors, local goals
Matt Leibengood is the police superintendent of ODW Lake Erie and Ken Fry is one of their outdoor specialists, although they instead walked past Chef Leibengood and Chef Fry on Fish Ohio Day at the Shores and Islands Visitor’s Center.
“Right now we’re looking for specific events, locations with specific audiences,” said Fry. âOne of the target groups that we have identified as suitable is the younger audience, who really appreciate finding food on site. They are often called Lokovoren. So we took it to farmers’ markets where we might be able to convince many that fishing and hunting are great ways to get their protein locally. “
With hunting and trapping license sales declining in recent years, Wecker said increasing numbers are vital to fund Ohio’s wildlife management and habitat improvement programs.
Fry said he runs cooking classes in addition to the sampling events and that these have been well received so far. It started with a pop-up tent and pick-up truck at the Jefferson County fair in 2019. It went down so well, he said, that his supervisor told him to walk with it.
âI looked at local businesses and thought about having their chefs come out and run cooking competitions. I think that would be a lot of fun, âsaid Fry.
Wecker said the ingredients for the operation came from a variety of sources, including evidence in wildlife crime that have been closed and purchases from commercial establishments.
“We have some leftover evidence and we are also using some of our sampling efforts,” she said. “Often we put it out on blackboards, but whatever happens, we never want to waste it.”
Ohio hunters, including DOW employees, have donated deer, pigeons, 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 blackened zander and cheddar grits recipes she made from Leibengood and Fry stole it.
For more information on how to get a grip on fish or game and how to prepare and store it, visit the Wild Ohio Harvest Community or the DOW’s official YouTube channel wildohioharvest Cookbook.
Grant funds two-year aquaculture efforts
A similar operation has surfaced across the Great Lakes in Minnesota, though its online focus means its reach is much wider.
The Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative produces a series of cooking videos called Fish to Fork. The first episode shows Peter Fritsch from Rushing Waters Fisheries preparing and frying a whole rainbow trout. The second episode shows employees from Wisconsin and Michigan Sea Grant cleaning whole fish, filleting fish, cleaning whole fresh shrimp, and then grilling.
“We also ran a live online cooking contest during our last annual event,” said Amy Closet, Fisheries and Aquaculture Instructor for the Minnesota Sea Grant. âOne of the things we see with our aquaculture partners is that people are a little unsure about how to cook seafood in general. So trying to educate consumers is a place where a need has been identified through our connections with producers. We try to explain to people how to cook seafood in general, why it is healthy and where it comes from. “
The Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative was formed to develop and grow aquaculture in the Great Lakes region through a $ 1 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the Sea Grant programs in all eight Great Lakes states support financially. Fish to Fork is just one of the projects funded by this grant.
“The basic goal is really to create a regionally connected and informed group, not just with Sea Grant employees, but also with aquaculture farmers, to create an environmentally responsible, competitive and sustainable industry,” said Cabinet.
She said that when they hear the term “aquaculture” people are often confused because they often think of pens along the coast.
“When we talk about aquaculture in the Great Lakes, we don’t mean physical aquaculture in the lakes,” said Shrank. âWe are not talking about reticulated aquaculture as we imagine it to be in the oceans. This is all land-based aquaculture with a real focus on circulatory systems, so it’s like an indoor thing. “
In the GLAC definition, aquaculture includes the production of fish, shrimp, bait fish, stocking fish and ornamental fish.
She said aquaculture producers don’t compete with commercial fisheries or other fish that come from the lakes. In addition, sustainability is an important factor. A key difference is that aquaculture does not pull fish out of wild populations.
GLAC’s goals include identifying cutting-edge aquaculture knowledge, helping producers identify and conduct research, and helping direct regulatory and policy changes that are beneficial to the industry. The summary of the GLAC project also contains a formulation that sets a clear goal for the protection of water quality in the lakes and for sport fishing operators.
Tory Gabriel, Ohio Sea Grant fisheries coordinator, recently spent a day at the Winous Point Shooting Club’s annual event, Day on the Wild Side. There he offered children a quick education in cleaning fresh fish. While new groups cycled through his fish cleaning station every hour throughout the day, he fetched fresh fish from an ice cooler and cleaned it from start to finish.
All of the ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’ were accompanied by sharp observations and questions like âWhat is this?â. and ‘can you eat this?’
“That’s what some people call pikeperch wings,” said Gabriel while he was carving a fish. “Just make a cut here and right here and you cut that off and it’s a big piece of meat.”
This was followed by a brief discussion on omega-3s (good) and lean meat (good) and heavy metals (bad), and then a tutorial on storing and freezing fresh fish.
Gabriel answered the children’s many questions and then shared his recipe for homemade tartar sauce.
“Lots of onions, lots of cucumber, fresh dill and mayonnaise – that’s a nice thing,” he said with a smile as he finished his presentation.
Charter captain catches and cooks
Port Clinton charter captain Ross Robertson is a longtime pike perch angler on Lake Erie and is no stranger to creating videos and podcasts on the subject of fishing. Stories of his fishing adventures have been published in numerous magazines and outlets. In a slight change of direction in 2019, he hired a professional videographer and started making cooking videos with longtime friend and fisherman Joe Gibson.
âWe do fishing things with tips and tricks, but I hear a lot of people say, ‘Man, I fry fish, I’ll do that. I don’t want to waste my twilight trying something new, ‘âhe said. “So we kind of do this for them.”
Robertson said his short videos were popular and he asked people if they were guests so they could share old family recipes. Recent videos include cold pikeperch salad, pikeperch wheels wrapped in bacon, pikeperch with parmesan crust, and pikeperch soup.
Robertson said he had just finished a video made with five anglers who lived in a rented house in the Port Clinton area.
“They wanted to do something simple with their fish, something without a thousand ingredients and simple enough for people who are not culinary experts and who have a slightly different twist,” he said. âMany of them just replaced pikeperch with something else in a popular dish. One recipe that everyone seems to love is pikeperch cakes. Hopefully these videos will give people the confidence to try this stuff out for themselves. “
Find out more about Great Lakes now:
Thousand Island Dressing Mystery: Uncertain Origin of One of America’s Most Popular Sauces
Fish, propane, cash: not everyone loves the generosity of Enbridge in the Strait
Raising Fish: A Glimpse into How a Hatchery Helps Restore the Great Lakes’ native species
The Farmory: Is Indoor Fish Farming A Viable Way To Tackle Fish Population Decline?
Featured Image: Ohio Sea Grant’s Tory Gabriel provides instructions on how to clean, fillet, and store freshly caught fish for children attending the Wild Side in Ottawa County’s Wild Side Day 2021. (Photo credit: James Proffitt)