Valuable fishery

MARQUETTE – A 30 percent rise in wholesale whitefish prices helped keep the value of Great Lakes fish harvested by licensed commercial anglers above the previous year, according to statistics reported recently by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division.

Combined, state-licensed commercial anglers caught more than 3.6 million pounds of fish – which included 18 different species – with an estimated wholesale dockside value of roughly $5.53 million prior to processing, marketing and retail sales.

DNR officials said the state’s total harvest was about 150,000 pounds less in 2013 than in 2012 due to lower reported catches of non-native common carp in Lake Erie. Despite the lower total weight catch, the Great Lakes fishery’s estimated gross dockside value was up $1.44 million over 2012, or 35 percent. DNR officials said the increase in value can be attributed mostly to the wholesale price increase of lake whitefish. Whitefish averaged $2.09 per pound and the total value of the fish caught throughout lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron totaled $4.9 million. The Lake Superior whitefish value was $772,842, with a total of 369,781 pounds caught.

“Lake whitefish are great table fare and by far the most important commercial fish species in the Great Lakes,” Tom Goniea, DNR commercial fisheries biologist, said in a news release. “They have accounted for more than 67 percent of the state-licensed harvest by weight and 84 percent by gross value during the last decade. The price of whitefish has been on the rise the last several years and an increase in demand drove the price even higher in 2013 – a bit of a pleasant surprise for commercial fishers.”

Whitefish pounds and value topped the catch lists for all of the lakes combined.

Lake Huron had the highest whitefish catch with 1.2 million pounds valued at $2.6 million, followed by Lake Michigan with 745,135 pounds with a value of $1.5 million. Lake Superior’s catch was third.

Of species represented in the catch pound totals, Lake Huron had the most with 16. Some of those additional species included sheephead, channel catfish, yellow perch and quillback.

After whitefish, white bass had the highest valued catch on the lakes at $108,384, followed by channel catfish at $108,384, buffalo at $90,797 and carp at $89,645.

DNR officials said participation in the fishery in 2013 remained constant compared to 2012. Michigan’s 31 active state-licensed commercial licenses are owned and operated by 20 separate businesses. Eleven of these businesses fished in Lake Huron, five in Lake Michigan, three in Lake Superior and one in Lake Erie. Together, these businesses added an estimated $25 million to Michigan’s economy and about 300 fishing and fishing-related jobs, the DNR said.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal.net.