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Icelandic scientists say a single lake whitefish could create $3,500 worth of products

Courtesy of Iceland Ocean Cluster

A team of Icelandic biologists were in Harbor Springs and Detroit this week as part of the launch of the 100% whitefish initiative, a project focused on increasing the value of lake whitefish in the Great Lakes.

The biologists were able to crack the code for utilizing all parts of Icelandic cod beyond just food. They discovered the minerals from things like cod scales, skin, bladders and eyes can be used to help create vitamins, pharmaceutical products, cosmetics and leather, among other things.

“And they're helping us to get a better understanding of whether you can do the same thing with whitefish,” said Marc Gaden, deputy executive secretary of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. “But it's a fish that's under pressure. And if you could increase the value of that white fish, you've done a real improvement to the Great Lakes fishery.”

In a previous interview with WCMU in June 2022, Randy Claramunt, Lake Huron basin coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division, said it's shocking how low the lake whitefish population has gotten in the Great Lakes. Claramunt is attributing the decline to invasive species like the zebra quagga mussel.

"They completely rerouted the nutrient pathways and shifted the way that these ecosystems function," said Claramunt. "And when mussels came in, they re-routed nutrients to areas that gave some species an advantage."

According to Iceland Ocean Cluster, the company helping lead the project, initial testing on lake whitefish has shown great potential for creating more high-value products from fish parts that are normally thrown away.

Courtesy of Iceland Ocean Cluster

The company said in a written statement that the utilization rate of Icelandic cod increased from 40% when the utilization of the fish was exclusively fillets to more than 90% for non-food products.

“Iceland has proven the 100% fish concept and we are now creating similar successes around the world,” said Dr. Thor Sigfusson, founder of Iceland Ocean Cluster, in a written statement. “Great Lakes whitefish can be our next success story.”

Iceland Ocean Cluster is estimating the total value of products made from a single lake whitefish will be worth $3,500 from its current rate of $12.

“The 100% whitefish initiative can help bring new products, jobs and revenue opportunities to our local communities,” said Michigan’s director of the Department of Natural Resources Dan Eichinger. “It also represents a more sustainable use of one of Michigan’s iconic natural resources—lake whitefish—while growing our blue economy in a way that can maximize the commercial return while respecting the management, health and recreational needs of the fishery.”

Rick Brewer is a general assignment reporter covering central and northern Michigan for WCMU Public Radio.