Do the lakes have what it takes?

Stakeholders from all streams of Michigan’s fisheries came together for an inaugural Seafood Summit on Thursday, March 12, in East Lansing. The Sea Grant event ambitiously united the Michigan Fish Producers Association (wild caught), Michigan Aquaculture Association (aquaculture), Great Lakes Chef Alliance, state legislators and Michigan Sea Grant staff to celebrate a common ground: Michigan Fish.

Eric and Amber Petersen with state Rep. Holly Hughes (R) at the first Michigan Seafood Summit.Workshops focused on Michigan’s established wild fishery and its emerging aquaculture industry and gave more than 100 attendees plenty of brain food. If fishermen felt uncomfortable, it was probably because aquaculture enthusiasts outnumbered them nine to one. The summit was a sober reminder of Michigan’s dwindling wild fishery and the state’s growing interest in aquaculture.

Farm-raised fish makes up more than 50 percent of an average seafood eater’s diet, and the United States is importing more than 90 percent of its seafood to fill American demand. As Michigan investigates the possibility of becoming an aquaculture leader, fishermen are faced with a hard question: How do we survive yet another threat to our livelihood?

Through a crippling history of invasive species, poor management, Tribal Consent Decrees that closed fishing grounds, and ultimately the conversion to a recreational fishery, Michigan’s commercial fishery has dwindled from hundreds of fishers to 35. In a state that boasts the most diverse freshwater fishery in the nation with more than 153 species, it relies on one species, the lake whitefish, to make up 90 percent of its commercial catch. It is little wonder that aquaculture advocates see Michigan as prime grounds to establish a leading aquaculture industry.

2015 0326 SummitThe inaugural Michigan Seafood Summit’s program addresses the dichotomy between wild and farmed fish.Michigan was one of the hardest hit states during the recession, leaving at its peak a statewide unemployment rate of 14 percent, with Detroit at 26 percent. We are beginning to recover, but it is a slow crawl. It would be irresponsible for state legislators to not investigate new small business opportunities. It would be equally irresponsible to disregard an already established branch of the same business the state looks to expand. Events like the Seafood Summit will be important for the balanced growth of Michigan’s wild and aquaculture industries, because both industries benefit from more Michigan fish on Michigander’s plates.

The closing banquet filled attendees’ plates and really stole the summit. It began with an hors d’oeuvres table loaded with Michigan produced seafood: wild whitefish liver mousse, cured lake trout with tomato jam, smoked lake whitefish and golden whitefish roe on caraway crackers, farm-raised smoked rainbow trout mousse and shrimp in diavola sauce on a fried saffron polenta cake. Each dish was paired with Michigan beer or wine, complements of New Holland Brewing in Holland, Mich. s

Smoked whitefish with a chestnut mushroom soup, grilled shrimp with cabbage cranberry ginger slaw, smoked trout over squid ink linguine, pecan-crusted rainbow trout and cornmeal crusted lake whitefish, again paired with beer or wine, filled out the five-course dinner. Hats off to Chefs Mathew Green, Matthew Millar, Michael Trombley Jenna Arcidiancono and Bradford Curlee for embracing Local Fish!

Amber Mae Petersen is the owner of the Fishmonger’s Wife, a fish wholesale, retail and processing business in Muskegon, Mich., and the wife of a fourth-generation Lake Michigan whitefish fisherman, Eric Petersen, who serves as president of the Michigan Fish Producers Association.

Want to see more? Check out our slideshow of Eric and Amber at work.

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 13 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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