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Michigan lake whitefish gets top value

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The Department of Natural Resources' Fisheries Division recently released data from its 2012 state-licensed commercial fishing season. An often overlooked component of Michigan’s world-class fisheries resources, state-licensed commercial fisheries in 2012 caught 3,762,000 pounds of fish with a dockside value of $4,087,000 prior to processing, marketing and retail sale.

“Commercial fishing in the Great Lakes is one of the oldest uses of the lakes and brings rich fisheries resources in the form of protein to the public’s dinner tables,” said Tom Goniea, DNR commercial fisheries biologist. “The total store value of the state-licensed fishery is worth nearly $20 million to Michigan’s economy and supports an estimated 300 fishing and fishing-related jobs.”

Currently, Michigan’s state-licensed commercial fishery consists of 50 licenses authorized to fish throughout the Great Lakes. It is important to note this fishery is non-tribal; data from tribal commercial efforts will not be available until late summer of 2013. Of the 50 authorized licenses, 32 were actively fished in 2012 by 22 state-licensed commercial fishing businesses. Twelve businesses operate in Lake Huron, five in Lake Michigan, three in Lake Superior, and two in Lake Erie.

The majority of state-licensed commercially harvested fish are caught by trap nets. These nets allow fish to be captured alive, thus ensuring the freshest-quality product gets to market and allows non-target and undersize fish (those not big enough to be legally kept for commercial sale) to be released back to the lake.

Michigan’s commercial fishery harvests a variety of fish species and, while catch varies greatly by fishing location, the most lucrative quarry is the lake whitefish. In 2012, lake whitefish made up 53 percent of the catch and were worth $3.2 million dockside to fishermen, 77 percent of the fishing industry’s gross dockside value. This harvest had an estimated retail value of $16 million. In addition to whitefish, other important commercial fishery species include catfish, carp, yellow perch, sheepshead and quillback.

A full breakdown of the harvest and dockside value of the 2012 state-licensed commercial fishery, as well as the harvest and value breakdown for each of the individual lakes, is available online; visit www.michigan.gov/fishing and then click on Managing Michigan’s Fisheries.

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