Will ‘100% Fish’ program make whitefish golden?

Great Lakes whitefish, like this one Lance Valentine is holding, are a fragile resource shared between recreational and commercial fishers. Is upping their commercial value a wise plan? (Photo by Mike Schoonveld)

Something that seems more magical than reality has taken place in Iceland.

For centuries, fishing for codfish near Iceland provided food for many and a source of income for Icelandic commercial fishermen. A few years ago, codfish could be sold at the dock in Reykjavic for about $12 each. The fish would be cleaned, packaged, most of the skin, bones, heads and other non-edible parts (about 60% of each fish) would be discarded.

Now, each codfish has a value of about $3,500, since a consortium of enterprises found or developed uses for most of the otherwise discarded portions of the fish. I don’t know what those uses are – perhaps they found a way to turn cod livers into gold instead of, oil or render the offal into rare medicines.

It sounds magical.

What I can surmise is that jump in price is going to impact the number of codfish caught and sold around Iceland.

Is that sustainable?

Only time will tell.

Recently, at the annual meeting of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Governors & Premiers (www.gsgp.org) the leaders (or magicians) of the Icelandic “100% Fish” strategy were present to explain what and how they transformed their cod-fishing industry.

The American/Canadian group wants to learn the Icelandic tactics and adapt them as a boost to the commercial fishing industry in the Great Lakes. Initially, the emphasis is to be targeted to Great Lakes whitefish. With a modicum of success, it will move on to other species.

David Naftzger, executive director of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Governors & Premiers said after whitefish, “Beyond this, 100% Fish can help create more value and benefits from lake trout, walleye, yellow perch, and other species in our region.”

When invasive mussels proliferated in the Great Lakes and became a dominant species in the ecosystem, all the other species of fish suffered. Introduced species like salmon, brown trout, and smelt populations took a hit. Native species, for the most part, suffered even more. Perch numbers are down to historic lows, walleye potential is down, and so are all the others – including whitefish.

Is this the time to invest time and money trying to bolster the commercial fishing enterprises on the Great Lakes here in Michigan or in the other states and provinces?

Many factors have historically had negative affects to Great Lakes fish populations, including commercial fishing. Will any good to the resource occur if the dockside price of a commercially caught whitefish increases to magical levels?

Categories: Blog Content, Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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