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Seafood Watch gives a passing grade to most commercially-sold Great Lakes fish

Feb 3, 2015

The newest update to the Seafood Watch website lists five Great Lakes fish.
Credit http://www.seafoodwatch.org/

There’s a new report card of sorts out on fish sold commercially from the Great Lakes.

It’s from Seafood Watch. That’s a program at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

Seafood Watch is for people who like to eat fish and want to know more about how those fish are caught or raised.

A good report card for the Lakes

Peter Payette is with our partners at Interlochen Public Radio, and he took a look at the new recommendations.

“Basically it says you can feel very pretty good about eating fish that are caught in the Great Lakes,” he says. “If we think about it like a report card, it would really be a good report card for the government agencies that manage the fisheries, that set the rules and enforce them and make sure people aren't taking too many fish out.”

The Seafood Watch team did not find any evidence of overfishing in fish they studied in the Great Lakes region.

“Essentially they're saying, 'things are going quite well, all things considered, in the Great Lakes.’ "

Legacy problems still exist

Most fish in the Great Lakes got a "yellow" rating.

Payette says the three-tiered system follows traffic light rules with red denoting fish to avoid and green signifying the “best choice.”

"The yellow rating reflects the fact that all is not well in the Great Lakes,” says Payette. "They did not find any evidence of overfishing but there are a lot of problems in the Great Lakes.”

These legacy problems range from invasive species to overfishing that happened 100 years ago.

Payette talked with Joe Krieger, who was one of the researchers who worked on the report. He's a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan. He says most Great Lakes fish they studied got a yellow rating because the populations are under stress and are having problems.

'That’s not necessarily because we're catching too many fish; it's just that the fish that we are catching are a little less healthy, a little bit smaller, have other things impacting them," he says.

Are some fish in the Great Lakes better choices than others?

“It was pretty even across the board: the four fish we're talking about are lake trout, lake whitefish, walleye, and yellow perch, and also smelt, which is an invasive species," says Payette.

For the most part, the recommendations were yellow. There were a few green ratings, for instance: whitefish coming from the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan caught with trap nets.  The same goes for lake trout over in Minnesota and the waters of Lake Superior.

“Lake trout are doing very well at the west end of Lake Superior, so they said that's a ‘best choice’," says Payette.

He added that another "best choice" -  perch - was doing well in the New York waters of Lake Ontario.

"In a few places, certain fish got the most enthusiastic endorsement to eat."

Red ratings aren’t always red flags

The only time that the red "avoid" rating came up was in Wisconsin.

"They were all in Lake Superior, and these were cases where there are some questions about tribal fishing rights and so no one is saying that there's overfishing happening there. But they couldn't be clear about what IS happening in that part of Lake Superior, so they said, 'avoid because of lack of data.' "

There are phone apps as well as a pocket-sized printable guide available to consumers who want to focus on eating fish that are sustainably caught or farmed.