News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The death of the Great Lakes

You could buy a fast and easy-to-cook whitefish for 35 cents. 

 I went to Chicago to find work. There was no trouble finding work, but it paid so poorly that it defeated the purpose for finding it, which was to save money to go to college.  If you were a resident of Chicago who lived with one's parents, saving for college expenses was possible.  But the majority of us who lived in Chicago at the time came from the surrounding rural states, which were in a recession at the time, and we found that the jobs we were able to get left us scrambling to pay rent and buy food.  


We did what came naturally to anyone from farm country.  We gathered together, pooled our resources, and coordinated our efforts to survive.  Healthy eating was a major part of this.  We got together and made big pots of spaghetti sauce and pasta, stews, pot roasts, and the like.  A couple of guys would find some cheap cuts of meat to contribute, others of us would bring the vegetables, and others bread and condiments.  


A favorite dinner we made was whitefish.  At nights, I was taking classes on the Chicago campus of Northwestern University, which is in a neighborhood just north of the Chicago River and at the side of Lake Michigan.  At that time the area near the river contained warehouses where lake freighters loaded and unloaded, and out of which a small fleet of fishing boats operated.  I  was often designated to take 35 to 50 cents to a fish market where the boats were unloaded and buy a big whitefish.  If we cleaned and scaled it ourselves, we could get a bigger fish, and some of my friends who came from the lake areas were very fast and adept at getting a whitefish ready to cook.  And there were innumerable ways to cook them, but the mother of a friend who was a native of Chicago showed us the easiest and maybe the tastiest way, which was simply to bake the fish,  sometimes stuffed, sometimes not.  At any rate, one big whitefish could feed a lot of hungry young men.  Very cheaply.

In the spring, when fishermen gathered at the lake front for the smelt run, we were often given buckets of the little fish.  Preparing them was more labor intensive, and we had to have a smelt cleaning party before dipping them in milk and cornmeal and frying them, but they were very  cheap and quite tasty.  We developed a lot of strategies to eat despite the limitations of a lack of money.


People venerate the foods that have helped them survive and get along.  African-Americans revere their chitlings and greens.  Scandinavians celebrate the Christmas holidays with ritual servings of lye-cured cod,  lutefisk  if you're Norwegian, lutfisk  if  you're Swedish in descent. That is how whitefish and smelts hold a special place in my dietary memory.  I have found fresh whitefish available only once while I lived in Aberdeen, and that was last week. As for smelts, they are available but spouse finds it incredible that I will eat bait fish.   


The days of eating from the Great Lakes fishery are over.  Fishing in Lake Michigan is ending.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel carries a story today about the last fishing boat leaving Milwaukee.  The fishing industry has been killed by invasive species.


For a long time, white fish became very rare because they were devastated by the parasitic lamprey eel.  It took decades of work by environmental and fishery scientists to find a way to control the pests, but now the fish are being starved out.  Mussles have propagated so wildly that they literally cover the entire bottom of Lake Michigan and suck all the nutrients out of the water that fish and their natural food sources depend upon for survival.  The lake used to be green from being rich in plankton.  Today the water is crystal clear.  


The death of the fishery is one of the hazards of globalism.  Freighters coming in from the oceans have carried invasive species with them.


The invasive species have also invaded the river system.  Biologists have reported that Asian carp have made their way up the Mississippi River and are now progressing up the tributaries, where they also devastate the foods sources that native species depend upon.  


However, fishery killing stuff is being generated within our own country, also.  Nitrates from the commercial fertilizer used in industrial farming operations have rushed down the Mississippi to create a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico in which nothing much can grow.  And that is not to exclude the contributions of organic pollutants that contribute to the contamination of the waterways.  The Gulf fisheries were dealt a huge blow by the BP oil spill, during which time the dead zone has seen a dramatic increase in size and toxicity that is closing off fishing grounds that were once productive.  


Along the East Coast, much fishing has been curtailed from overfishing and other environmental problems that have still to be fully understood.


Dietary recommendations coming from food scientists say that we should be eating fish about three times a week.  Fish?  What fish?





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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States

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