Some local restaurant owners believe there’s something fishy about catches from Lake Erie

The advent of spring and summer means we can now look for perch, walleye and our other favorite Lake Erie fish on local restaurant menus. The warmer months also introduce to the lake raw sewage after heavy storms, phosphorus runoff from fertilizer and algae blooms,…exacerbating a decades-long problem of environmental degradation caused by pollution from heavy industry, agriculture and human negligence.
So what do these toxins mean for the fish we eat? For local chefs who are meticulous about ingredient sourcing, the contaminants’ impact on the quality of the lake fish is of particular concern.
“I hesitantly served walleye once about a year ago, and I don’t plan on serving it again. I want to serve quality fish that tastes good and doesn’t contain chemicals found in Lake Erie,” said Michael Bruno, owner of the Blue Door Bakery & Café in Cuyahoga Falls, which primarily ships in fresh wild fish through Sea to Table, a sustainable seafood distributor… Ben Bebenroth, chef and owner of Spice Kitchen + Bar, said he is perplexed about the contaminants in the fish, although his unease doesn’t prevent him from serving lake fish at his Gordon Square Arts District eatery. “The damage has been done to our environment in general. Toxicity is the reality with almost all our foodstuffs,” he said. “But I’d rather eat our local walleye than quarter pounders with cheese.” The Ohio Department of Natural Resources does not share the same level of concern over the quality of the fish, but rather the health of the lake water. “It’s safe to eat perch and walleye,” said Jeff Tyson, Lake Erie program administrator for the department’s Wildlife Division. “Fish are highly migratory and spread out to areas where they can thrive.” Lake Erie recreational and commercial fishing is an $800 million-plus industry, and pollution threatens its economic impact. Recurring problems with contaminants are prompting increased awareness and action to protect the habitat of the fragile fresh water resource that supplies what we eat and drink.

That stinks

Lake Erie is the shallowest and warmest of the Great Lakes, and it’s most susceptible to the impacts of climate change and pollution.Prior to the 1970s,the concentration of nutrients — particularly phosphorus from municipal sewage treatment plants — harmed the lake with algae, resulting in lower oxygen levels and fish die-offs, according to the International Joint Commission, a United States-Canadian agency.Governments on both sides subsequently upgraded their sewage treatment plants. Phosphorus levels by the mid-1980s declined by more than half from 1970s levels, which improved water quality. Lake Erie’s recovery, according to the agency, was recognized as a global success story. Problems with excess nutrients in the early 2000s reappeared. In 2011, heavy spring rains washed so much phosphorus into the lake that the summer’s algal bloom, at nearly 2,000 square miles, was three times bigger than any previous one and could be seen from space. The decomposing algae consume the ecosystem’s oxygen, creating dead zones where deepwater fish such as perch cannot exist. This year’s substantial snow melt and spring rains could produce a resurgence of algae, though forecasters are still uncertain of the extent based on weather predictions that are calling for a cooler summer.

Taking stock

Habitat destruction causes fish population to suffer.Walleye fishingwas banned in 1970 because of mercury contamination from the Detroit and St. Clair rivers. Legal walleye harvestwas renewed in 1972.Population levels of both walleye and perch increased in the mid-1980s, but have fluctuated since then (although other factors, including overfishing and invasive species contribute to the vacillating population). A review since 2000 of the population of yellow perch — one of the most popular recreational and commercial fish in Lake Erie and an indicator of the lake’s ecological condition — that are at least 2 years old shows a peak of 515 million in 2005. Stock has declined since then. The perch population reached its lowest level in 2013, at 131 million, though this year’s abundance is projected to rebound at 155 million. The highest level of Lake Erie walleye, at 99 million, was also experienced in 2005. This year’s estimated abundance is 23 million, the lowest level during the 14-year span. “There are other factors involved, but phosphorus and harmful algal blooms impact production of yellow perch and walleye,” Tyson said. Now we may only be talking about fish in this instance but this is a great example of why, as a business owner, you need to be aware of these sort of things that might affect your restaurant business. That’s why you should take a look at something like this restaurant management software so that you can keep on top of things and get your business to thrive. This is because some businesses often have to rely on third-party suppliers especially if they are a restaurant that wants to provide a real fish experience to their customers, so having management software, such as this third party risk management could be a good way of helping a restaurant to manage themselves safely. There are so many things that go into making a successful restaurant and having the correct software is just one of them. If you’ve just opened a restaurant, the first thing you’ll need to do is buy some restaurant insurance to ensure you’re covered against any accidents that may happen. Once you’ve got this sorted, your business can grow and become successful!

Here’s the catch

The state’s Department of Health, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency also set annual consumption advisories, which specifically target pregnant women and children.While most Ohio sport fish are safe to eat, low levels of chemicals like polychlorinatedbiphenyls (PCBs) and mercury have been found in lake fish.It’s acceptable to eat 6 ounces of yellow perch twice a week (although only once a week if caught in the Cuyahoga River). Recommended consumption of walleye is once per week. Others, such as catfish, freshwater drum, lake trout, smallmouth bass, steelhead trout and white bass, should be limited to one meal per month. Fishermen for Catanese Classic Seafood, a Cleveland-based second-generation fish distributor, navigate the waters carefully. Longtime angler Holly Szuch said she avoids the more toxic western edge of the lake, trolling the waters between Huron and Ashtabula. “The fillets we catch are clean. I eat a lot of fish,” she said. “If there were any issues, I wouldn’t be catching it.” Still, a full inspection of the harvest is customary. “We don’t see red marks or trauma,” she said. “Any mercury deposits would be in their bellies, and we don’t sell bellies.” Pier W’s in-house fish cutting room enables executive chef Regan Reik to scrutinize the health of his Lake Erie perch and walleye, the quality of which meets his sustainable Lakewood restaurant’s high standards. “They still seem vibrant,” he said. “Right now, we’re getting in yellow perch and walleye that are just beautiful.” Douglas Katz, chef/owner of Fire, Food and Drink, said the only locally featured fish on his Shaker Square eatery’s menu is walleye, which is only commercially harvested from Ontario waters because of binational state and fishing agency agreements to protect walleye population. Katz eschews the smaller perch, not primarily because of health suspicions but because of its lack of utility. “Perch is small, so it’s hard to do anything besides fry it,” he said. Still, the delicate state of our oceans and lakes is what motivates his advocacy role as an ambassador of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, which educates consumers and businesses on purchasing seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that don’t harm the environment. “It’s really important that we keep asking questions, and find out what the lake fish are ingesting,” he said. “We want sustainable seafood for future generations. We don’t want fish swimming in dead zones.”

Photo caption: Catanese Classic Seafood fishermen are shown during a recent Lake Erie haul of yellow perch. Kathy Ames Carr, Crains Cleveland Business View original article at: Some local restaurant owners believe there’s something fishy about catches from Lake Erie

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