Eating Great Lakes Fish

A healthy, local choice

Most fish are a healthy food choice. They’re packed with high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. However, 90 percent of the seafood sold in Michigan is imported from other countries. Buying fish caught in the Great Lakes is an important way to support local commercial fishing operations and markets while reducing your carbon footprint.

Looking for inspiration? Michigan Sea Grant has two great sources of Great Lakes seafood recipes, cooking tips, and more:

freshwater feasts whitefish bisque ingredients

Freshwater Feasts is a cooking blog dedicated to “Great Lakes cooking at its best.” The posts feature easy, delicious recipes from Michigan Sea Grant staff and partners, as well as preparation tips, restaurant discoveries, and more.

Wild Caught and Close to Home is a cookbook full of more than 60 recipes for Great Lakes whitefish submitted by experienced chefs and fishing families who have been preparing whitefish for generations.

With Michigan’s Catch and Cook program, charter fishing clients can step off the boat and have their fresh catch transformed into a tasty meal at a local restaurant. Before you hit the water for your next charter excursion, check the Catch and Cook website for participating charter boats and restaurants.

The Michigan Seafood Summit brings together commercial and tribal fishers, chefs, natural resources managers, aquaculture producers, and seafood vendors to explore the present and future of local Great Lakes seafood. Presentation sessions are followed by a special Michigan seafood dinner prepared by acclaimed chefs.

See photos from previous Michigan Seafood Summits

Enjoy Great Lakes fish safely

Some fish found in Michigan’s rivers, streams, and areas of the Great Lakes have high amounts of chemical contamination. PCBs, dioxins, or mercury can accumulate in the fat and flesh of fish. As a result, eating some types of fish too often can cause health proglrms. Children and women who are pregnant or might become pregnant are most at risk of health problems from eating contaminated fish.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services produces the Eat Safe Fish Guide, which contains guidelines for choosing and eating fish. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services professionals recommend taking the following steps to reduce your risk by carefully trimming and cooking fish.

Reduce your risk

  • Trimming and cooking off the fat can remove up to half the chemicals. Most chemicals are stored in the fat except for mercury and PFOS (an ingredient used in waterproofing materials and firefighting foam). Mercury and PFOS cannot be removed from fish.
  • Choose smaller, younger fish that are lower in chemical contamination.
  • Instead of catching and eating catfish or carp, try bluegill, perch, walleye, rock bass, and black crappie.
  • Fish in less contaminated waters.
  • Avoid eating fish organs, heads, or skin.

Trim your fish

  • Trim away fatty areas along backbone, sides, and belly.
  • Remove organs (liver and stomach) and head.
  • Remove the skin or poke holes in it to allow the fat to drain off.
  • Bake, broil, or grill the fish so the fat drips away.
  • If you deep-fry fish, use vegetable oil and discard after use.

Do your research

If you plan to catch, buy, cook, or order Great Lakes seafood, be sure to check the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Eat Safe Fish website and Buy Safe Fish brochure for updated fish consumption advisories and preparation tips.

If you plan to buy, cook, or order marine seafood, consult the National Resources Defense Council’s Smart Seafood Buying Guide and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website for recommendations for safe, sustainable seafood. Avoid eating any of these ocean fish, as they contain mercury: shark, swordfish, tilefish, or king mackarel.

In 2007, Michigan Sea Grant funded a research team to investigate the causes, consequences, and correctives for fish consumption advisories in the Detroit River. Read about their findings in the project summary and full report below.