Monday, July 14, 2003

Superior trout blog.

Whitefish livers. After getting off the tour boat in which we had tooled around the Apostle Islands on the morning of July 2, I was hoping to find whitefish livers for lunch. I’d heard that they were a specialty of Bayfield, part of the Lake Superior fish catch that didn’t travel very far inland. We went to a pleasant restaurant called the Pier Plaza, friendly to those of us with small children, but whose menu isn’t on the wall above the cash registers. Fittingly, it overlooks the main city pier in Bayfield, and also includes an inn on the property.

No livers. Minor disappointment. Whitefish livers weren’t on the menu that day, so I settled for the next best thing, Lake Superior trout, as the star contents of a sandwich platter. Major satisfaction in that choice, which turned out to be the best dish of the whole trip for me, though some others came close. Lightly seasoned and lightly sautéd, nesting on a fresh bun with the option of tangy tarter sauce, the natural flavor of the lake trout shone through. Freshly mashed potatoes complemented the plate, and provided a handy stock of food that Ann could, and did, enjoy.

It also turned out that Lake Superior trout are a relatively rare item themselves. Every plate of food tells a story: this from Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine (April 2003): “Commercial fishing began in the 1830s and increased in intensity over the next century. Lake whitefish were heavily fished in the Wisconsin waters in the 1870s and 1880s. Over-fishing had already taken its toll on lake trout, lake whitefish and lake herring populations by 1938, when sea lamprey reached Lake Superior.

“ ‘Lake whitefish, the most sought-after species, were more shore-oriented than lake trout,’ said DNR fish biologist Dennis Pratt. ‘When whitefish numbers got low, fishermen turned to lake trout. When sea lamprey arrived, they nearly eliminated the depressed lake trout populations. Lake herring sustained the commercial fishery into the 1950s, but by the 1960s, herring numbers were down, too.’

“Special effort was put into restoring the lake’s top native predator — the prized lake trout. Since the 1960s, management efforts have reduced lake trout mortality by managing lamprey predation and human harvest. Wisconsin created two fish refuges where limited lake trout fishing is allowed: Gull Island Refuge (1976) and Devil's Island Refuge (1981)… While reducing lake trout mortality, biologists increased fish numbers by stocking fish and eggs. They placed some fertilized eggs inside Astroturf bundles on Devil's Island shoal, hoping the fish would return as adults to spawn.

“ ‘We are beginning to see the results of that work, as the fish reach spawning age,” said DNR fish biologist Steve Schram. These lake trout are slow growing, and can reach a ripe old age.’ ”

Lilly’s choice of food on that occasion was a grilled cheese sandwich, as it was several times throughout the trip. If you’re going to go on a grilled cheese bender, Wisconsin is the place to do it. For dessert, she had a curiosity — root beer ice cream. I sampled it too. Not bad, but not endangered by the evil lamprey.


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