Finns visit Michigan to learn about Great Lakes trap net fishing

After spending time with Michigan commercial fishermen, a Finnish delegation returns home with new techniques and knowledge to begin to create a thriving new fishery in their home country.

Maria Saarinen is a Program Director from Livia College in Finland. One day, she conducted on Internet search on Great Lakes commercial fisheries after Finnish commercial fishers expressed an interest in learning how lake whitefish and yellow perch are harvested in the Great Lakes. During her online research, Saarinen came across Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension educator, Ron Kinnunen— whose last name is Finnish— and she contacted him. Between them, they arranged for a delegation from Finland to visit Lake Huron to learn about the Great Lakes commercial fishing industry. Members of the delegation included commercial fishers, fisheries scientist, and economic development experts.

During the first day of their visit to the Great Lakes, the Finnish delegates attended a seminar on issues in the Great Lakes fisheries based upon interests expressed by the Finns. Michigan Department of Natural Resources scientists, Jim Johnson and Dave Feilder, of the Alpena Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Field Station gave an overview of the Michigan-licensed commercial fisheries of central Lake Huron and on cormorant management in the Great Lakes, respectively. The Finns fish for a different species of whitefish in their country and have the same problem with cormorants. Additionally, Michigan Sea Grant made a presentation to the delegation on the Great Lakes whitefish marketing project and seafood HACCP. The Finns then visited the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Alpena to learn about the role of that agency in the Great Lakes. The first day then ended with a visit to the NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Besser Museum where Brandon Schroeder (Northeast Michigan Sea Grant Educator) discussed his fisheries history-related efforts with those organizations.

The Finnish delegation visited with John Gauthier and Tom Spaulding of Gauthier and Spaulding Fisheries, who are experienced trap net fishermen and who produce a high quality whitefish product that is sold under the Legends of the Lakes brand. The delegation witnessed a demonstration on the efficiency of trap nets for targeting lake whitefish in Northern Lake Huron. The fish are brought onboard, alive, and iced immediately to maintain their high quality as a food source. From this demonstration, the visiting fishermen determined the use of trap nets in their fishery would be beneficial after they master that fishing technique. Trap netting could also help the Finns to save an extremely rare species of seal (that lives in inland lakes also fished in Finland) as they can be killed in gill nets. Switching to trap nets while fishing in these types of waters could save the livelihood of the commercial fishermen as well as help save the rare seals.

The Finns enjoyed watching the fishermen landing 5500 pounds of lake whitefish from five of their trap nets. These fish were then transported to the Gauthier and Spaulding Fisheries fish processing facility in Rogers City, where the delegation observed the automated scaling and filleting machines that process the lake whitefish at a rapid rate. This type of automated fish processing equipment is not used in Finland; however, adapting this type of automated equipment for use in their fishery could make an immediate positive impact on that country’s fishery’s growth.

The Finnish team expressed a need to develop a market for whitefish products in their country, including developing value-added products to a product line rather than relying only on whole fish sales. During their visit to the Gauthier and Spaulding Fisheries, the visiting fishermen were introduced to the Legends of the Lakes Cooperative. Under the Legends of the Lakes label, Gauthier and Spaulding Fisheries and other co-op members produce high quality frozen lake whitefish fillets and whitefish cakes as value-added products.