Michigan Sea Grant helps Michigan commercial fishers realize economic gains
Michigan commercial fishers are now enjoying increased market value for Michigan caught lake whitefish and turning fish by-products into profit.
The Whitefish fishery is Michigan’s largest commercial fishery. Lake whitefish from outside the region, usually from Canadian inland lakes, earned better market prices than whitefish caught in Michigan waters. Risk of closure because of declining profits threatened some Michigan-based commercial fishing businesses because of significant differences in lake whitefish market prices.
In 2004, Michigan Sea Grant began working with commercial whitefish producers and the MSU Product Center to establish a cooperative and develop value-added whitefish products. Through a Fisheries Extension Enhancement grant, whitefish producers and processors teamed with Michigan State University food scientists and supply chain specialists to benefit from the “local food” movement to market fresh caught, flash-frozen whitefish filets caught in Michigan waters.
Michigan commercial fishers were receiving a dockside value of approximately $0.45 per pound for whole whitefish. Since forming the Legends of the Lake cooperative (currently comprised of five commercial fishing businesses in Michigan) and engaging in a comprehensive marketing plan, dockside value for lake whitefish steadily climbed and closed the 2011 fishing season at $1.20 per pound. Through ongoing connection with Michigan Sea Grant, the cooperative continues to research and develop new value-added whitefish-based products so that consumers can enjoy a variety of locally caught seafood products from Michigan’s Great Lakes.
An increase in market value and product sales is not all that the commercial fish processors enjoy – they have now turned fish by-products into profit. With fish processing, comes fish by-products and the expense of responsibly disposing of the unused parts of the fish. Michigan Sea Grant began working with fish producers and processors to develop strategies for managing fish by-products through repurposing unused parts of the fish. Producers and processors now sell fish frames, pinbone meat and small fish for use in other food products. Michigan commercial fishers now make a profit from responsibly repurposing fish by-products they had previously been paying to store and landfill.