Fouling up the fish fry: Yellow lake perch prices surge during shortage

Local News

Your Friday fish fry could have a menu change.
Yellow lake perch are in short supply with fishermen and restaurants struggling to meet demand.

“At this time, where I would normally have 100-150,000 pounds of yellow perch filets, I have nothing,” said Paul Becker, vice president of seafood sales at Riverside Foods in Two Rivers.

Pretty much in a nut shell, there are too many walleye and they’re feasting on the yellow lake perch.

“There’s no more food, so they keep going on to the next food source,” he said. “They have to adapt. And when you have so many predators, there can only be so much prey.”

The freezer is where you’ll find the best representation of what’s going on. You’re going to find walleye, zander, sauger, but what you’re not going to see is too much of yellow perch, the hottest commodity of all.
Normally in the freezer here at riverside foods, you’d see not just one box, but 12,000.

“I should be buying fish, I should be selling fish,” said Becker. “The effect? I mean, look at the room here–it’s empty. I should have people in here working, processing fish.”

More than 90 percent of the yellow lake perch consumed in Wisconsin comes from Lake Erie.
And the fish just aren’t there.

“My workforce has gone home,” he said. “What was normally a 60-hour work week, they’re lucky to get their 40 hours.”

And the economic woes cast farther than the paycheck.

“The biggest frustration is the price is way up,” said Paul LeClair, president of Susie Q Fish Market in Two Rivers. “Fish is supply and demand. So when the supply is way down, the price goes up.”

Prices are at an all-time high, going up about $3.50/lb in the last year.

“There’s always seasons where there’s less, but this is probably about the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said.

At this rate, even replacements like European perch are expected to run dry by the time Lent rolls around.

“The horse is already out of the barn,” said Becker. “And what it’s going to take to mend the fence, I don’t know. But I just know it’s going to be in short supply.”

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