Fishing on the Up North Waters

“Quality, quality, quality – when you eat our fish, you’re eating some of the finest fish in the world,” says Dennis VanLandschoot, owner of Van Landschoots & Sons Fish Market of Munising. Talk to any of Michigan’s Northernmost fisheries, and they’ll let you know the same. A Michigan fish is fresher, and high in Omega 3s and protein, according to the ones catching it. 

They’ll also explain that buying a local fish is about the people behind the product. “A lot has changed over time but the thing that hasn’t changed for our Northern Michigan fishing communities is the small-town feel,” explains Audrey McMurray of Big Stone Bay Fishery. “The mom-and-pop shops you can find with long-time faces at the counter” are something you can expect when shopping in Northern Michigan. Not only that, but fisheries support a local economy, making choices that employ the area workforce and keep this quality product on the shelves of Michigan markets. 

In fact, ‘long-time faces’ are a common theme when talking to fisheries in Northern Michigan. Van Landschoots & Sons is a 111-year-old family business. Massey Fish Co., based out of St. Ignace, is a 6th generation family operation. Jamie Massey, who currently heads the company with his son, ‘BJ’, attests that this heritage trade is what drew him into the business, and what makes it so successful today. Beyond being taught to do everything the ‘right way’, he has fond memories of waking up early in the morning to head out to the docks with his fishing pole to watch the boats go out for the day. “It’s that Christmas morning feeling, every morning,” he explains.

Photo Credit: Massey Fish Co.

That being said, not everyone shares his level of passion for fishing. Many fisheries will explain that one of the biggest challenges for the industry is finding and keeping staff members aboard, especially in a time of generational transition. There are few fishermen and women in Michigan, and even less up-and-coming, explains McMurray. It’s a skilled trade, but seasonal in nature. Those that stick around are rewarded with a special connection to the ebbs and tides of nature and some ‘pretty spectacular sunrises.’ Massey says that the ability to appreciate the reward of a sunrise is what’s needed to stay in the game. 

Another aspect of change in the industry is the presence of invasive species, which can dramatically change the landscape of the Great Lakes waters. From zebra and quagga mussels to goby fish, the diet and environment of the most-often fished species, like whitefish, has been altered. Fisheries on the Great Lakes have to make their adjustments accordingly, with daily observations of the conditions.

Beyond that, some fisheries have navigated the waves of change by means of product diversification. Instead of simply packing and selling wholesale dressed fish to markets in Detroit, Chicago, New York and beyond, the direct-to-consumer route means making the most of each fish reeled in. For Massey Fish Co., this means taking six fish species and making dozens of different products from it, from smoked products to breakfast sausage, as well as those with sustainable stewardship in mind, such as dog chews. 

Despite these changes and challenges in the industry, fishing remains one of the oldest trades in the world. Celebrate this industry here in Northern Michigan by sourcing local fish – use the tips given to us, below! Find fisheries throughout the state using our Find Food and Farms Directory.

Great Lakes Fisheries Tips: What Fish to Buy, and How to Prepare It

Big Stone Bay Fishery: Try a stuffed trout or whitefish! Bake it or grill it, or transform it into a delicious fish chowder. 

Massey Fish Co.: Keep it simple – start with Massey’s favorite, smoked trout. 

Van Landschoots and Sons: A fun trick with whitefish is to poach it in the microwave! Take two paper plates and place a 4 or 5 oz. seasoned whitefish filet in between. Microwave for about 40 seconds, and it comes out beautifully.

Claire Butler is the Content Strategy Specialist for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at [email protected].

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