Eurasian perch crippling local fisheries

In a normal year the commercial fishery from Brighton to the Quebec border would be scrambling to get their gear in the water.

For the great majority of the fishermen, their target would be yellow perch. It’s a prolific fish with a wide range, superb taste and a high dollar value. That dollar value has traditionally been a much anticipated relief to the bank accounts after a winter of the nets sitting idly ashore. From now until the third week of April, the harvest of perch would ordinarily be at its peak, but this year the nets are still onshore.

For years the Bay of Quinte/Lake Ontario fishery has depended on shipping their catch to big fish processing plants on Lake Erie. Late last year those plants had the opportunity to purchase very large quantities of Eurasian perch fillets at a very low price. Now their freezers are still full. As a result, they have no room for ours and we have been told they will not be accepting any of our perch until possibly as late as June or July.

Eurasian perch occur in both brackish and fresh water throughout Europe. We’re uncertain whether it is a separate species or a subspecies of our native yellow perch but they are reported to grow as large as six pounds. In 2013, Russia was the largest producer with over 15,000 metric tonnes (well over 30 million pounds) followed by Finland, Estonia and Poland. Under what guise they are being marketed as here in North America, we have no idea.

How valuable is yellow perch to the local commercial fishery? In 2017 it constituted 51 per cent of the value in the Bay of Quinte/Lake Ontario total fish harvest. For fishermen further east towards the St. Lawrence River, perch comprised 88 per cent of the total value of their harvest in 2017.

To add insult to injury, nets that would normally be in the water to target perch can also capture other commercial species such as sunfish, white perch, rock bass, black crappie, bullhead and others. However, the smaller volumes of these fish and their lower values fail to provide economic justification in setting the nets. With that being said, those species would still have improved a fisher’s weekly income but they won’t be helping the bank accounts this spring either.

The processing facilities that do exist throughout the affected area are very few and very small. They are capable of handling only a small portion of the catch of those fishermen who operate them. So the boats remain idle, the nets remain idle and the hard working people who would ordinarily be using them must learn to cope with being idle and yet hope that they and their lifestyles will yet survive.

Kendall Dewey