Know your fish

A guide to 11 of Manitoba's 95 species of freshwater fish


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/04/2013 (3625 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


Sander vitreus

Also known as: Pickerel

The goods: The walleye, a member of the perch family, is the most valuable commercial fish in Manitoba and the most sought-after sport fish. Commercial catches in Lake Winnipeg are tightly controlled by provincial quota. Fishers delivered six million kilograms of walleye to the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) in 2011-12 and were paid $3.19 per kilogram. The FFMC exports most of its walleye to the U.S. Midwest restaurant market and also into Germany, Poland, Belgium and France.

How valuable is it? In 2004, DNA tests commissioned by Minneapolis TV station KARE 11 found Twin Cities restaurants selling European zander, a relatively inexpensive fish, in place of the “Canadian walleye” listed on their menus.


Sander canadensis

Also known as: Baby pickerel

The goods: A slightly smaller cousin of the walleye, sauger looks and tastes so similar it is sold as pickerel or walleye to the same markets in Canada and elsewhere in the world. Sauger are more common in the Red and Assiniboine rivers, while walleye are more common in lakes. Fishers delivered 200,000 kilograms of sauger to the FFMC in 2011-12 and were paid $2.19 a kilo for the fish.

How to tell sauger from walleye: The easiest way to discern the difference is sauger have black spots on their dorsal fins while walleye don’t.

Lake whitefish

Coregonus clupeaformis

Also known as: Whitefish

The goods: Lake whitefish, a member of the salmon and trout family, is the third-most-important commercial fish in Manitoba. A good source of beneficial fatty acids, whitefish are among the most nutritious freshwater species in the world, but have fallen out of favour as a staple of the Manitoban diet. Fishers delivered 3.8 million kilograms of lake whitefish to the FFMC in 2011-12 and were paid $1.18 per kilogram. The Crown corporation exports the fish to the U.S., Russia, Finland, Poland, Germany, Latvia, Sweden and Iran.

Not all whitefish look the same: Lake whitefish are prone to a high degree of genetic variability and also come in many different shapes, sometimes within the same lake. One study found six distinct breeding populations in Lake Winnipeg’s northern basin.


Coregonus artedi

Also known as: Tullibee

The goods: Another member of the salmon and trout family, cisco are close enough to lake whitefish to breed with their genetic cousins and are sometimes marketed as whitefish. In Manitoba, cisco is often sold as “smoked tullibee.” The FFMC sells most of its cisco to the ground-up gefilte-fish market.

Not to be confused with: The shortjaw cisco, primarily found in and around Lake Winnipeg.

Yellow perch

Perca flavescens

Also known as: Perch, lake perch

The goods: Easily caught from shore, yellow perch don’t show up in sufficient numbers at the FFMC processing plant to warrant their own processing line. Instead, this excellent food fish is shipped to Wisconsin, where it’s processed and packaged under the Freshwater Fish label. This arrangement allowed the Crown corporation to boost the price paid to fishers to $3.75 a kilogram in 2011-12, when 300,000 kilograms were delivered.

Do not go with the flow: Perch prefer water with no current whatsoever.

Northern pike

Esox lucius

Also known as: Northern, jack

The goods: Found in almost every river, stream and lake in Manitoba, the northern pike is one of the most common vertebrates of any sort in Manitoba. Pike are excellent to eat but difficult to filet in comparison to walleye; as a result, the FFMC sends northern pike to China for processing. Most of that fish is further exported to France. Other export markets include the U.S., Germany, Poland and Finland. Fishers delivered 1.9 million kilograms of northern pike to the FFMC in 2011-12 and were paid 79 cents a kilogram for it.

Roe on the rise: Northern pike roe has joined whitefish roe as key exports to caviar-crazy Russia, Romania and Finland.

White sucker

Catostomus comersonii

Also known as: Mullet

Since suckers have no teeth, there’s a misconception they live off other fish, as do parasites. In reality, they scoop up invertebrates from the mud at the bottom of lakes and rivers. The abundant white sucker is good to eat but often discarded as bycatch due to its low price and desirability. The mullet that is shipped and processed is typically ground into gefilte fish or other minced products. In 2011-12, the FFMC received 1.6 million kilograms of whitefish but only paid 46 cents a kilogram for it. Most of it winds up in the kosher market in New York and Eastern Canada.

Ecological importance: The white sucker is a very important source of food for other commercially important Manitoba species.

Freshwater drum

Aplodinotus grunniens

Also known as: Silver bass, sunfish

The goods: The only member of the drum family in Manitoba, the “sunfish” crushes up crayfish, snails, mussels and other invertebrates with powerful teeth. As a result of its diet, its flesh is excellent to eat but annoying to clean, thanks a line of inedible red muscle along the filet. Although it’s occasionally sold within Manitoba, it isn’t purchased or sold by the FFMC and often winds up dumped as bycatch.

Massive range: Found all the way from Hudson Bay to Guatemala, freshwater drum are among the continent’s most wide-ranging fish.

Common carp

Cyprinus carpio

Also known as: Carp, European carp

The goods: Introduced into Manitoba in 1886, the common carp has wreaked havoc on marshes and lakes alike by disturbing sediment and uprooting vegetation as it thrashes about in shallow water. Carp are good to eat but difficult to debone and have almost no commercial value, especially since Asian carp began proliferating in the U.S. As a result, it’s often discarded as bycatch. Traditionally, it was served as a pre-Christmas meal in Eastern European Catholic households or ground up in gefilte fish in Jewish homes.

How destructive is it? The Province of Manitoba, Ducks Unlimited and a several other agencies spent $3.5 million this year in Delta Marsh to set up screens to prevent the largest, most powerful carp from chewing up the vegetation and suspending sediment in Lake Manitoba.


Lota lota

Also known as: Mariah, eelpout

The goods: The only member of the cod family in Manitoba is the burbot, a freshwater fish some anglers swear is the tastiest fish in Manitoba. Since it has no apparent scales, it’s not considered a kosher fish and thus is not purchased by the FFMC, whose Transcona processing plant is certified as kosher. The only way to buy burbot is direct from a fisher within Manitoba.

Nasty nickname is no joke: In some regions, this slime-covered, voracious bottom-feeder is called a lawyer. When caught, it has a tendency to wrap itself around the arms of fishers like an eel.


Hiodon alosoides

Also known as: Winnipeg goldeye

The goods: The goldeye is reputed to be unpleasant to eat if prepared in any manner other than smoking. Happily, it’s fantastic as a smoked fish, although its popularity has declined in recent decades. Although some goldeye are caught in Manitoba as bycatch, most are imported frozen from northern Saskatchewan and then smoked in this province. After it’s smoked, it’ll turn to insipid mush if frozen. The red colour comes from a dye — naturally smoked goldeye are dull brown.

Fun physiology: The goldeye has teeth on its tongue. So do its relatives, which include the giant Amazonian arapaima and large tropical arawannas.

— Bartley Kives


Updated on Monday, May 21, 2018 6:53 PM CDT: fixes perch, northern pike mix-up

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