Chinook salmon fry in a tank at our daughter’s school. The school annually hatches chinook eggs for the Michigan DNR and releases them into the St. Joseph River in May. You are seeing 3 of 93 baby fish here. With luck, these babies will come back to the St. Joe in 3-4 years to spawn.
I say without reservation that I enjoy the challenges of this local diet. I do find it distressing, though, that I cannot regularly eat the fish out of my backyard creek, down-the-road river, or over-the-dune Great Lake.
My father was a fisherman. Not as a profession, but as an avocation. He did, however, descend from fisherfolk, on both his French and his Irish sides, who made their living on and around Beaver and Mackinac Islands near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I spent my childhood, then, catching and eating fish out of Lake Michigan and its tributaries. I still own–and throw a mean loop with–a smelt gillnet.
I adore fish, and fishing. Our honeymoon was a fly-in fishing camp in Ontario: one week, thirty miles away from the nearest other human: what fun that was! The last fish I ate, though, was on that honeymoon. Freshwater fish in this country is well nigh inedible, where Michigan says that eating even the smallest perch is inadvisable for me, and a definite no-no for my daughter. A simple perch, as poison! We’ve overfished our oceans, we’ve polluted our streams with agricultural runoff, our coal-fired power plants have rendered all inland lakes, from the tiniest pond to the Greats, as mercury-laden sinkholes. And this, even after the Clean Water Act actually cleaned up the lake! One can actually see the bottom of Lake Michigan when you’re at a depth of 40′: something unknown to my ’70s childhood. Cleveland’s river doesn’t even burn any more.
I look at the state of our world and I wonder, what would my father say? His grandfather, his great-grandfather? That we live on a lake filled with inedible fish, what would they say? Knowing my dad, he’d probably say “What the holy hell did we do?”