Twenty companies pledge to use all parts of Great Lakes fish

Print More
Lake trout and whitefish leather dyed with natural indigo.

Joe Manthei

Lake trout and whitefish leather dyed with natural indigo.

Capital News Service 

LANSING — Fish-leather purses and wallets may make their way into Great Lakes fashion with an initiative to use 100% of commercially caught fish by 2025.

One of the latest projects of a binational Great Lakes organization is to fully use the region’s whitefish, lake trout, yellow perch, walleye and white sucker.  

David Naftzger, the executive director for the Conference of Great Lakes St. Lawrence Governors & Premiers, recently signed the 20th company to the 100% fish pledge. 

Participants include four from Michigan: Motor City Seafoods in Detroit, VanLandschoot & Sons Fish Market in Munising, AA Marine in Manistee and First Catch LLC in L’Anse.

The conference consists of leaders of eight states and two provinces bordering the Great Lakes. It was founded to grow the regional economy and protect the world’s largest surface freshwater system.

The pledge exposes the public to the number of ways to use a fish, Naftzger said.

“There are food products you can make out of non-traditional parts of the fish, but also to show that you can use so much more of each fish, and that a fish is not just a fillet.” Naftzger said.

Commercially caught fish are used primarily for their fillets, according to the project details. About 60% of the remaining fish becomes low-value animal feed or is discarded.

Commercial fisheries in the region are undervalued and underused, according to the project managers.

The project team also involves Native American communities: The Red Cliff Fish Co., Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

Commercial Great Lakes fishing is a $7 billion-a-year industry. 

Using 100% of commercially caught fish means expanding and sustaining an already profitable lake economy and culture. The pledge details how a fish can be turned into products, increasing profits and eliminating waste.

Fish skin can be turned into leather and artistic materials. Collagen can be used as pharmaceutical supplements. Oils and collagen can be used in cosmetics and creams. 

Fish skins have been used to treat burn victims because of their anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties that support and improve wound healing. Nutrients from their flesh and bones can be turned into medications and collagen beverages. 

Anything leftover can be turned into organic liquid fertilizer.

The project was inspired by the Iceland Ocean Cluster, a group that pioneered and operates a similar campaign in Iceland. As a result of this initiative, over 90% of each fish is consumed or processed.

A study by the Iceland Ocean Cluster suggests that one of the promising sites for research and development of the full use of fish could be near Mackinaw City, which is close enough to urban areas, fisheries, processing plants, restaurants and research centers.

Bill Bodin, a fourth-generation commercial fisherman whose family has been fishing near the Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands of Lake Superior since the 1880s, said he already uses 100% of the fish he catches.

Since sustainability isn’t new to him, Bodin says he has more goals for his involvement in the program. “To see these leaders working to create a larger enterprise to promote sustainability, healthy fish populations and utilizing the resources to a maximum is a breath of fresh air.”

He said, “At this point, I’m hopeful that the pledge will help create additional markets around collagen, fish oil, fish scales, fish skin.” These are “things we’re not currently taking full advantage of.”

Joe and Pam Manthei own and operate Fiskur Leather, a Minnesota company that uses fish scraps to create leather for clothing, artistic materials and jewelry.

The couple learned about tanning fish skins while on vacation in Iceland and brought the idea home with them to the United States.

They first imported Icelandic fish to work with but soon found that Bodin Fisheries was willing to send scraps to experiment with, Joe Manthei said.

He processes and tans the fish and his wife creates artistic materials from the leather. Together, they create wallets, boots, bags, beads, buttons and jewelry.

“The interesting thing is, it’s very thin but extremely durable.” Joe Manthei said.

Fish leather is regarded as one of the strongest and most durable because skin runs crosswise rather than parallel, he said.

“We are using some of the products that might normally be thrown away,” Joe Manthei said. “I’m in favor of everything it [the pledge] is doing.”

Naftzger said that the 100% Great Lakes Fish pledge is a non-traditional collaboration among  native tribes, commercial fishing companies, the research community and international partners to show businesses and the public that every fish part tossed out is a lost opportunity to create new products and rethink value in the fishing industry.

“We’ll be working over the next two years to support the companies that are already using 100% of their fish to move up in the value chain, and for those who are not, help them get to 100% utilization.” Naftzger said, “Over time, we hope to attract new companies and have new products we may not even be thinking about now.Shealyn Paulis writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Small pouches made of fish leather.

Joe Manthei

Small pouches made of fish leather.
How commercially caught fish are now used and what could be possible if they were fully used.

Conference of Great Lakes St. Lawrence Governors & Premiers

How commercially caught fish are now used and what could be possible if they were fully used.

Comments are closed.