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Perch Fish Farm May Help Red Lake Band

The Red Lake Band’s commercial fishery used to pump more than a million dollars annually into the local economy of the Bemidji, Minnesota, area. Overfishing of the walleye and yellow perch found in the Upper and Lower Red Lakes changed all that, causing a voluntary fishing moratorium in 1997 that cost nearly 700 band members their jobs.

“The record 1992-93 perch harvest was worth several million dollars,” said tribal fisheries biologist Pat Brown. “There historically has been a huge demand for Red Lake walleye and perch in this region.” When the fishery closed, the whole local economy was impacted, not only the reservation, Brown said.

The band wants to revitalize their commercial fishery. Along with long-term efforts to recover the wild stocks, they plan to raise perch in tanks.

“We have the trained work force, the market, and the processing plant as well as the tradition,” said Dave Conner, Red Lake tribal fisheries director. “So we began exploring alternatives, such as aquaculture. When we first started noticing a decline in the fishery a couple of years ago, the Bureau of Indian Affairs recommended we contact Fred Binkowski.”

Binkowski, an aquaculture expert with the Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute, has been raising Red Lake perch broodstock at his Milwaukee laboratory since 1995.

Binkowski and Conner’s work led to the recent signing of an agreement between the band and the University of Wisconsin System’s Aquaculture Institute in Milwaukee to study the potential for raising yellow perch at an aquaculture facility to be built on the Red Lake Reservation.

A $10,000 grant from the Wisconsin Sea Grant and a matching $10,000 from the Red Lake Band will cover the cost of constructing a commercial-scale Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) unit at the University of Wisconsin Aquaculture Institute. Red Lake fisheries personnel will be trained in use of the RAS unit. An additional $65,000 from Red Lake will fund the installation of a demonstration unit at Red Lake, as well as a commercial-scale system.

If all goes according to plan, the project will offer a fish-farming model for other tribes and entrepreneurs to follow, and the tribe could begin harvesting yellow perch in the fall of 1999.

“Under the new agreement, we will combine our knowledge of the Red Lake perch biology with the RAS technology,” said Binkowski. He added that the RAS technology might prove to be the most efficient and cost-effective method of raising yellow perch in captivity.

A successful RAS unit will help tribe members return to commercial fish production and will mean fish with the Red Lake label will once again grace the dinner tables of the north-central United States.

For more information, contact Binkowski at 414.382.1700.


By Sea Grant Staff
June 1998

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