Currently more than 90 percent of the seafood eaten by Americans is imported from other countries. Surprised? We were, too. That’s why this month the UW Sea Grant Institute is partnering with the Seafood Center to raise awareness about purchasing local fish.

That’s right—you don’t have to own a fishing pole to enjoy eating local fish. The Seafood Center, which sells seafood at both Co-op locations, regularly carries wild fish caught from the Great Lakes and fish raised on Wisconsin fish farms. Here are just a few:

  • Whitefish (wild-caught from the Great Lakes)
  • Lake trout (wild-caught from the Great Lakes)
  • Walleye (wild-caught from the Great Lakes)
  • Arctic char (farmed in Bristol, WI)
  • Rainbow trout (farmed in Westfield, WI)
  • Yellow perch (wild-caught from the Great Lakes and farmed in Milwaukee, WI)

Throughout March, look for local fish information, giveaways and special events at the Co-op and elsewhere. More details are at eatwisconsinfish.org.

Why Local Fish?
Fewer fossil fuels are used to bring local fish to your table, and by purchasing fish from Wisconsin fish farmers and Great Lakes commercial fishers, you’re keeping your food dollars close to home and supporting local family businesses. Also, unlike many international seafood producers, Wisconsin fish farmers and Great Lakes commercial fishermen are strictly regulated by federal and state laws that protect fish populations, human health and the environment.

Buying Local Fish
Last year the UW Sea Grant Institute, a statewide program supporting Great Lakes research, education, and outreach, surveyed more than 200 customers in Madison and Milwaukee grocery stores about what they knew, and wanted to know, about buying local fish. The results, as well as some terrific focus groups held at Willy Street Co-op and Outpost Natural Foods in Milwaukee in December, helped us create the “Eat Wisconsin Fish” campaign materials that we’re rolling out this month at the Co-op in partnership with the Seafood Center. Sea Grant will be taking the materials statewide later on this year, so please feel free to email any comments to kkline@aqua.wisc.edu.

Below is a sampling of the information we’ve put together; see eatwisconsinfish.org for more recipe ideas and detailed information about each local fish species.

Wild Great Lakes Fish
Commercial fishing on the Great Lakes began in the 1820s and continues today. Overfishing was a major concern a hundred years ago and, together with industrial pollution, habitat destruction and the arrival of invasive species, it almost wiped out several important species, such as lake trout and yellow perch. As a result, today’s Great Lakes food web is very different from previous versions, and much research goes into determining which fish and how many of them can be harvested from the lakes.

State and federal regulations ensure that fish are harvested sustainably from the Great Lakes. Two organizations, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, help seven states, 11 tribes and two countries work together to manage the Great Lakes fish populations. Commercial fishing licenses are limited (10 licenses in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Superior and 65 licenses in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan). Also, for some species, such as Lake Superior lake trout and Lake Michigan lake whitefish, the allowable number of fish harvested is determined by regular scientific sampling. The annual harvest is then divided up among commercial fishing licenses into quotas. Thus each commercial fisher has a guaranteed percentage of the total allowable annual harvest and doesn’t have to compete with others. Additional regulations regarding types of gear used and fishing locations ensure minimal catch of non-targeted fish species and protect sensitive habitat.

Wild Fish Profile: Lake Whitefish
Lake whitefish live in the cold deepwater lakes of the northern United States and Canada and are one of the best-tasting freshwater fish. Whitefish populations in the Great Lakes are healthy, abundant and well managed. Whitefish is usually priced very reasonably, too.

Lake Michigan whitefish are the heart of the traditional Door County Fish Boils in Wisconsin. Supper clubs commonly serve a simple paprika-sprinkled, butter-drizzled, baked or broiled whitefish fillet, which makes a fine lighter entree with or without an old-fashioned.

  • Taste: Mildly flavored, mildly sweet, off-white color, medium-firm flesh with a large flake. Because whitefish live in icy northern waters, they have a high fat content and are good smoked. (Check out the Seafood Center’s deli case for this.)
  • Preparation: Cook whole or cut into steaks or fillets. (The Seafood Center will do this for you, of course.) Bake, broil, grill (whole or steaked fillets will survive best on a grill pan or foil sheet), pan-fry or grind for fish mousses. (Whitefish is traditionally used for gefilte fish.) Whitefish pairs wonderfully with asparagus, celery, chives, cucumber, dill, green beans, horseradish, lemon, marjoram, mushrooms, snow peas, sour cream, sweet onion and thyme.
  • Nutrition: Lake whitefish contains higher omega-3 fatty acid (EPA and DHA) levels than Atlantic cod.

Lake Whitefish with Ginger-Garlic Cream
From the Shedd Aquarium’s Rite Bite Program
Serves 4

  • 4 lake whitefish fillets
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbs. minced ginger
  • 2 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 c. vegetable stock
  • 2/3 c. dry white wine
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard leaves
  • 3/4 c. whipping cream

Directions: Preheat oven to 350ºF. Rub fillets with 1 Tbs. olive oil, salt and pepper. Add 1 Tbs. ginger, 1 Tbs. garlic and 1 shallot to saucepan with stock, wine and cayenne pepper. Bring to boil and heat until reduced by half, around 10 minutes.

While the sauce reduces, place the seasoned fish in an oiled baking dish and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until flaky. Add remaining olive oil to a new sauté pan and heat it over medium-high heat. Add remaining ginger, garlic and shallot to pan and cook for 1 minute. Add chard and cook until wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Add cream to sauce and boil until thickens, about 5 to 10 minutes. To plate fish, add a bed of sautéed chard and top with the fish. Spoon the ginger-garlic cream sauce over fish and serve warm.

Wisconsin Farm-Raised Fish
Approximately half the seafood eaten worldwide—including in the United States—is raised on farms. Because harvest from many wild fisheries has peaked globally, aquaculture is widely recognized as an effective way to meet the seafood demands of a growing population. As a result, aquaculture is the fastest growing form of food production in the world. Wisconsin ranks #1 in the Midwest in sales of aquaculture products and 20th in the nation.

Like any type of farming, aquaculture can affect the environment. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for ensuring that seafood imports are safe for U.S. consumers, the U.S. government cannot regulate the environmental impacts of international fish farms. In contrast, Wisconsin fish farms are regulated by both state and federal agencies.

Most Wisconsin farm-raised fish that you can buy in grocery stores are raised in these ways:

  • Flow-through: Outdoor systems using raceways with fast-flowing water that adds oxygen and removes waste. (rainbow trout)
  • Recirculation: Typically indoor systems that reuse up to 95 percent of water by cycling it through a series of fish tanks and biofilters. (Arctic char, yellow perch, tilapia)
  • Aquaponics: Typically an indoor recirculating system that grows plants and fish together. Fish waste fertilizes the plants, and plants filter water for the fish. (Arctic char, yellow perch, tilapia)

Farmed Fish Profile: Arctic Char
Arctic char belongs to the Salmonidae family, and it is related to both salmon and trout. Its closest relatives are bull trout, lake trout and brook trout, all members of the genus Salvelinus. Although wild Arctic char can be harvested in the northern Arctic regions of North America, Europe and northeastern Russia, the majority of Arctic char sold in U.S. grocery stores and restaurants comes from fish farms in Iceland and Norway.

In Wisconsin, Arctic char are raised in biosecure indoor recirculating systems. The Bristol-based company AquaTerra has been working with the UW-Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility to find the best rearing methods for the fish, and AquaTerra has plans to raise its “Bristol char” using aquaponics systems.

  • Taste: The high fat content of Arctic char, necessary for its life in frigid waters, makes it very flavorful and moist. Although often compared to salmon or trout, it is a unique fish with delicate colored flesh that is firm, mildly sweet, buttery and rich with a fine flake.
  • Preparation: This fish is versatile–it tastes great smoked, baked, pan-fried or grilled. In the kitchen, the very small edible scales make Arctic char an alternative to the fisherman’s campfire favorite: a flour- or cornmeal-crusted, pan-fried, skin-on rainbow trout fillet. Delicious pairing ideas include fennel, orange, potato-parsnip, morels, leeks and wild rice.
  • Nutrition: Arctic char is high in omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA).

Spring Salad with Miso-Maple Arctic Char
From the Shedd Aquarium’s Rite Bite Program
Serves 2

  • 1/4 c. miso
  • 1/2 c. maple syrup
  • 1 Tbs. ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 (5 oz.) farmed arctic char filets
  • 3 c. of spring greens (i.e., arugula, watercress), washed
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced with mandoline or peeler
  • 1 beet, thinly sliced with mandoline or peeler
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice

Directions: In a small bowl, mix together miso, maple syrup and ginger. Place arctic char in a bag and add marinade. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. In another bowl, mix together greens, carrot, beet, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Add remaining olive oil to pan over medium-high heat. Pan-fry fish on both sides for approximately 3 minutes or until fish flakes with fork. Plate salad and top with the warm fish.

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