Essex County has so many great food products that come to mind so quickly, but one that I always forget about is Yellow Perch. And hopefully after this I won’t forget again, because their recent history has many experts worried about their survival.
Yellow Perch is a species that can be found all over North America in freshwater lakes. The Yellow Perch goes by many names because of its wide spread distribution. American Perch, Lake Perch, CoonTail*, Racoon Perch, Ringed Perch, Striped Perch and also simply Perch are all names this small fish has been named. The largest Yellow Perch ever caught was 18 inches long and weighed in at a whopping 4 lbs, 3 oz, and which dwarfs it’s average size of about six inches and 1.8 lbs.
The Yellow Perch feeds on a variety of things through it’s life cycle. In larval stage they eat Zoo Plankton, but as they grow they begin to get a taste for larger prey. Mosquitos, Midges, Fish eggs, Crayfish, Mysid shrimp and other invertebrates become part of the menu as the fish grows older. The Yellow Perch however does not live a safe existence. Larger fish like, the Northern Pike, Muskie, Bass, Sunfish, Lake Trout and Pickerel, can make a quick snack of the relatively small Yellow Perch. Birds are also fans of the smaller Perch. Eagles, Herring Gulls, Hawks, Herons, Duck, Loons and Double-Breasted Cormorants will all gladly eat their fill of Yellow Perch.*
Despite the predators these small fish have persisted in great numbers in Lake Erie and the Great Lakes as a whole. But the shallow warmer waters of Lake Erie seem to give the fish an unusually good habitat. With this said because of environmental concerns Lake Erie has limited the fishing of Yellow Perch because of numerous factors that have contributed to the collapse of the species. Parasites, Viruses and over fishing have harmed the population of the Yellow Perch in Lake Erie and in 2006 more stringent restrictions were placed on fishing of the species.
Now there is a reason why these fish are in such demand and because this is a food blog I am going to talk about the fact that these small fish taste really great. They are mildly flavoured, light in texture, just a little bit buttery and can be enjoyed prepared in a number of ways, most popular of which is breaded and fried. It’s a regional delicacy that you can get pretty much anywhere in Essex County. The tiny fillets of the fish with light crunchy bearding, almost seem more like a fish nugget than a fillet.
Perch is one of our great food resources here in Southern Ontario, understanding the tenuous situation the fish are currently in and enjoying these delicious fish responsibly is a great way to both enjoy this tasty local treat but to have it for future generations as well.
*I am pretty sure this one is from the south
*And of course we eat them.