Lessons on Great Lakes commercial fishing shared with Norwegian commercial fishermen

With a desire to develop an inland lakes commercial fishery, Norwegian fishermen turned to Michigan commercial fishermen to learn some tricks of the trade.

Three years ago, Dag Sandbakken, a commercial fisherman in Norway, conducted an Internet search for “Great Lakes whitefish” and found a link between Michigan’s whitefish fishery and Michigan Sea Grant. In 2009, Sandbakken traveled to Michigan to meet the owners of Gauthier and Spaulding Fisheries, who fish for lake whitefish in northern Lake Huron, out of Alpena. This meeting laid the groundwork for a second visit in April 2012, as Sandbakken, along with seven of his fellow countrymen, returned to Alpena to learn more about the lake whitefish fishery in Lake Huron. The goal of their visit was to learn about whitefish fishing techniques that might be useful in Norway’s desire to improve its inland lakes fisheries. While the coastline of Norway has great fisheries, little development has taken place in their inland fisheries.

During the April visit, the Norwegian fishermen met with Ron Kinnunen, MSU Extension educator for Michigan Sea Grant, and John Gauthier and Tom Spaulding of Gauthier and Spaulding Fisheries. The trio demonstrated the efficiency of trap nets for targeting lake whitefish in Northern Lake Huron. When the fish are brought onboard, they are alive and can be 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.

The Norwegians enjoyed watching the fishermen landing 4500 pounds of lake whitefish from five of their trap nets. These fish were transported to the Gauthier and Spaulding Fisheries fish processing facility in Rogers City, where they 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 Norway; however, adapting this type of automated equipment for use in their fishery could make an immediate positive impact on the fishery’s growth. 

Also expressed by the Norwegians was 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.

The Norwegian government sponsored this research trip to the U.S., as the country is focusing on developing economic opportunities in its rural communities to reduce the numbers of rural residents moving to urban settings in the country. A thriving inland lakes commercial fishery using proven fishing techniques and mechanized processing can offer new opportunities of economic growth to Norway’s rural communities.

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