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Published: Monday, 10/27/2008

Freshwater fish from Midwest is overlooked

I m a little defensive and, yes, protective about the Midwest. We are much more than the fly-over zone of America.

Too often we have to explain who we are and where we are. Recently I found myself saying how important the five Great Lakes are; together they are the largest source of fresh surface water in the world. Sport fishing is a big hobby in the region, and plenty of fish are caught and brought home for dinner.

Early in October, the Food & Water Watch, a national consumer advocacy group, sent an e-mail release about a month-long celebration of safe and healthy seafood. The group plans to join forces with chefs across the country to promote sustainable fish choices. The organization has developed a wallet-size recommendation card, the Smart Seafood Guide, to help consumers and chefs make better choices about the types of fish they eat and serve. Find the guide at foodandwaterwatch.org/seafoodguide.

I immediately went to the link and found five regions for a list of recommended seafood: National (U.S.); New England; Mid/South Atlantic; Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific.

But where was the Midwest, aka the Great Lakes region? There was no mention of lake perch or walleye. We didn t find any species that met our requirements, said Marianne Cufone of the Food & Water Watch headquartered in Washington. Our program is the oceans program seafood, meaning marine fish.

When I asked about fish from Canadian waters, she said they would only consider domestic fish.

The Food & Water Watch recommends that when buying seafood, consumers choose domestic over imported and choose local foods over those shipped from far away. Try to purchase wild rather than farmed unless otherwise stated on the organization s list of recommendations.

Ask if the fish has high bycatch or habitat damage, and favor hook-and-line, troll, jig, and trap-caught fish. If fish is farmed, buy seafood that has been farmed in the United States in indoor, recirculating facilities. Tilapia, bass, and arctic char are examples of fish that are, or soon will be, farmed this way.

What about fish from the Great Lakes? For those who live in this region, fish from these fresh waters is about as local as it can get. If you are seeking food safety information about Ohio sport fish consumption, consult www.epa.state.oh.us/dsw/fishadvisory/counties/Lucas.html.

We test fish every year, says Ray Petering, fish chief for Ohio Division of Wild Life. The official recommendations are on the Ohio EPA website. The Ohio Department of Health has the final signoff for the official meal guidance.

Among the Food & Water Watch Dirty Dozen that should be avoided are Atlantic cod, Atlantic flatfish (flounder, halibut, and sole), blue crab, caviar (wild caught sturgeon, especially Beluga), Chilean sea bass, farmed salmon (don t be fooled by the word organic ), imported farmed shrimp, orange roughy, red snapper, shark, and tuna.

When it comes to sushi, items such as wild-caught Alaska salmon, farmed scallops, and Pacific halibut are more sustainable choices, according to three ocean conservation organizations (the Blue Ocean Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium). Popular items such as bluefin tuna and freshwater eel are firmly on the red list of sushi to be avoided. These species are either overfished, farmed with aquaculture methods that pollute the ocean, or caught using unapproved methods. The sushi guides are available at seafoodwatch.org, and blueocean.org.

Despite all this information, I m still thinking about local fish from freshwater lakes and streams and the Great Lakes such as lake perch and walleye. While local fish is a very popular food here, it is ignored on too many seafood or fish guides.



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