Opinion: Developing a 100-percent Great Lakes fishery

Opinion: Developing a 100-percent Great Lakes fishery

Original Traverse City Record-Eagle OpEd

By David Naftzger

Dinner or outings on the water might be the only time many people think about fish in the Great Lakes. Yet, the fishery is an important part of Great Lakes history, tribal culture and our regional economy — but it is struggling with a number of challenges.

To help support this industry and generate innovative ideas and new investment, the Conference of Great Lakes St. Lawrence Governors & Premiers (GSGP) recently launched the 100% whitefish initiative. This initiative will help make the most of the commercial fishery to maximize economic impact and sustainability.

The “filet” represents about 40% of a whitefish and is eaten or made into food products. The other 60% of the fish is either discarded or used for low-value products such as animal feed. Our goal with this initiative is to develop a new fish economy that finds new ways to use that other 60% of the fish for such things as nutritional supplements, cosmetics or fish leather.

This is a concept with a history of success. The 100% fish idea was first pioneered in Iceland and has since rejuvenated and expanded their fish-dependent economy. The Icelandic cod was originally used almost exclusively for filets for human consumption (like the Great Lakes whitefish). About 40% of each fish was eaten and the other 60% discarded. Today, more than 90% of the Icelandic cod is being either consumed or processed, with the skin and collagen being particularly high-value byproducts. This has raised the value of each fish from $12 to an amazing $3,500!

We want to create similar success in the Great Lakes region. Thanks to a grant from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, we are on our way. The GSGP is collaborating with representatives from state and provincial governments, Tribes, the commercial fishing industry, the Iceland Ocean Cluster and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Discovering new ways to use Great Lakes fish can help transform our region’s fishery, drive greater economic returns, create jobs and develop our rural economies.

Our recent launch event in Detroit featured a “head-to-tail” whitefish tasting menu to demonstrate how parts of the fish, beyond the filet, can be made into delicious meals.

Next, we plan to move beyond food to show various ways that 100% of a whitefish can be used, such as in supplements. In addition to whitefish, this initiative could help create more value and benefits from lake trout, walleye, yellow perch and other native species in our region.

The fishing industry often encounters rough business waters with pollution, shoreline erosion, habitat destruction and the arrival of invasive species, such as the sea lamprey.

We are optimistic that the 100% whitefish initiative can help rejuvenate the Great Lakes fishing economy while enhancing sustainability for the benefit of the whole region.

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