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Lake Whitefish

Eat Wisconsin Fish / Fish List / Lake Whitefish


  • whitefish (common)
  • adikamig (Anishinaabe)
  • Coregonus clupeaformis (science)



Lake whitefish has a delicate, mild flavor. It’s a solid choice for people who aren’t keen on eating food that tastes “fishy.” The flesh is medium-firm with a large flake. Lake whitefish has higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) than Atlantic cod. The meat tends to be firmer and fattier in colder weather.


In Wisconsin, lake whitefish are harvested from Lake Michigan and Lake Superior primarily with trap nets and, to a lesser extent, gillnets. Commercial fishers from Michigan, Ohio and Canada also harvest lake whitefish from the Great Lakes.


  • Lake Superior: 1 lake whitefish meal per week.
  • Lake Michigan: 1 lake whitefish meal per month.


If you are unsure of the origin of the whitefish, follow the most restrictive recommendation (once a month). For details, see Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: Eating Your Catch.


The lake whitefish, a fast-growing member of the trout/salmon family Salmonidae, is a mainstay of the commercial catch in the Great Lakes. In lakes Superior and Michigan, whitefish live in depths between 100 and 300 feet, but they sometimes move to shallower water at night to feed. They often swim in schools, making them an easy target for commercial fishermen.

These bottom-dwelling fish feed on a variety of bottom-living invertebrates and small fishes. Invasive mussels (zebra and quagga) changed the food web of the Great Lakes starting in the 1990s, the exception being deep and cold Lake Superior. Lake Superior aside, the invaders dramatically reduced the abundance of lake whitefish’s preferred food — a shrimplike creature called Diporeia. Lake whitefish adapted to this food shortage by eating other invertebrates.(1)

Lake trout, northern pike, burbot and walleye will eat whitefish. Sea lamprey also feed on lake whitefish, but their impact is not great.

Historically, lake whitefish played an important role in Native American economy. European fishers settling the region quickly exploited the abundance of lake whitefish. The timber industry of the early 1900s took a toll on whitefish populations, especially by damaging spawning habitat with sawmill pollution. Population numbers plummeted, but science-based fisheries management helped the lake whitefish fishery rebound.



Lake whitefish adapts to almost any method of cooking. Try stuffed some favorites, like stuffed whitefish rolls or fried whitefish tacos. Lake whitefish is so delicious, our friends at Michigan Sea Grant dedicated an entire recipe book to the species, Wild Caught and Close to Home: Selecting and Preparing Great Lakes Whitefish (DIGITAL DOWNLOAD, $5).



Early Native Americans living in the Great Lakes region made fish pemmican by crushing dried or smoked lake whitefish into a powder and adding berries. The powder also found its way into stews and soups.(2) 



(1) Fagan,K-A., M. Koops, M.T. Arts, T.M. Sutton, R.E. Kinnunen, A.M. Muir and M.Power. 2017. Lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) energy and nutrient partitioning in lakes Michigan, Erie and Superior, Journal of Great Lakes Research 43(1): 144-154  (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jglr.2016.10.007).

(2) Kuhnlein, H.V. and M.M. Humphries. 2017. Traditional Animal Foods of Indigenous Peoples of Northern North America: http://traditionalanimalfoods.org/. Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment, McGill University, Montreal.