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Eat Wisconsin Fish is sponsored by Wisconsin Sea Grant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Wisconsin Sea Grant supports scientific research, education and outreach to foster the wise use, conservation and sustainable development of Great Lakes and coastal resources.

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Yellow Perch

Eat Wisconsin Fish / Fish List / Yellow Perch

CONSUMPTION ADVICE

These are guidelines to help you and your family make safer meal choices. If you are unsure of the origin of your perch, follow the most restrictive recommendation.

Wild caught (mercury is the chemical of concern):

Farm raised: No consumption advisory for Wisconsin farm-raised yellow perch.

 

Taste and Nutrition

Yellow perch, also known as lake perch, have a mild, sweet flavor with firm, flaky white flesh. Yellow perch have slightly more omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) than Atlantic cod.

The size of yellow perch can vary greatly depending on the source, but adults are usually 4-10 inches long and weigh an average of 5 ounces. Usually served as fillets or sandwich fillings, the fillet size allows for many preparations. Several studies have found that consumers cannot distinguish any difference in taste between wild yellow perch and farm-raised yellow perch.

How They Are Harvested

Currently Wisconsin commercial fishermen are only allowed to fish for yellow perch in the waters of Green Bay, and most of this catch is harvested using gill nets and sold to local restaurants and fish markets. While a few tribal fisheries exist around the Great Lakes, most wild Great Lakes yellow perch sold in grocery stores is caught in Lake Erie by Canadian fishermen using gill nets.

How They Are Raised

In Wisconsin, yellow perch are raised either in outdoor ponds or in indoor recirculating systems. Some farms are beginning to use yellow perch in aquaponic systems as well.

Biology and History

Yellow perch travel in large schools as they feed during the day. This behavior makes commercial catches possible. They also tend to move nearshore in the spring, making them a favorite catch of shore anglers. Through much of the 20th century, families lined the shore of Lake Michigan in the spring to fish for yellow perch. Because they were easily caught from shore, some refer to them as “the people’s fish.”

Yellow perch tolerate low oxygen levels. They were able to move into areas of the Great Lakes that developed poor water quality during the American Industrial Revolution and onward. For example, by 1885, yellow perch were common in southern Lake Michigan and Green Bay where once lake whitefish, lake trout and lake sturgeon made up the largest part of commercial catches. Their abundance and mild taste made yellow perch a mainstay of the traditional Friday night fish fry enjoyed by many Wisconsin families at taverns and churches.

The number of Lake Michigan yellow perch has fluctuated dramatically since the 1970’s. The population in the southern basin of the lake increased in the 1980s, inspiring renewed sport and commercial efforts. Then the population plummeted, leading Wisconsin to close its commercial yellow perch fishery on Lake Michigan in 1995. Currently, Wisconsin commercial fishers are only allowed to fish for yellow perch in the waters of Green Bay and most of this catch is sold to local restaurants. Wild Great Lakes yellow perch sold in grocery stores are usually caught in Lake Erie by Canadian fishermen using gill nets.

While the decline of Lake Michigan’s yellow perch remains somewhat of a mystery, many scientists blame the invasive species that have changed the lake’s food web. It appears that few young perch survive to adulthood, and this could be from invasive zebra and quagga mussels removing the food that young perch eat. Another factor could be that cormorants, birds that increased in number as Great Lakes water quality has improved, prefer to eat yellow perch.

Responding to the decline of wild yellow perch in Lake Michigan, Wisconsin Sea Grant began funding research in 1973 to determine how best to raise yellow perch using commercial aquaculture systems. Since then, staff have provided technical assistance on water quality and broodstock viability to private businesses. See some of the stories!