BY ANNE STANTON email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY—Thousands of fresh salmon harvested from the region’s fish weirs will land on the plates of the needy, thanks to area veterans groups.
“We started doing this four years ago,” said Michael Dickinson, who delivered a load of heavily iced fish to a church in Irons in Manistee County on Thursday. “It started with a food bank at the Cherryland VFW, with deer and fish, and even some ducks.”
That prompted Dickinson to wonder what happened to the surplus fish captured at weirs run by the state Department of Natural Resources. He posed the question to a good friend, who oversees the fish processing in Traverse City for American Canadian Fisheries, a private company contracted by the DNR.
As it turns out, the premium fish were being ground up for cat food. Dickinson, duly inspired, turned to area veteran groups, including Rolling Thunder and Patriot Guard Riders, to help deliver the catch to area churches, food pantries, veterans halls, and nonprofits.
Dickinson said he and other veterans delivered an estimated 30,000 pounds of fish last year — an odiferous effort to be sure.
“I’ve come home on some evenings, smelling so bad, my girlfriend won’t let me in,” he joked.
DNR fisheries biologist Heather Hettinger said coho and chinook salmon are removed at the Boardman weir. The highest grade fish are sold for human consumption, the rest sold as pet food.
“If it’s a slow week or the market is saturated, the number of (high quality) fish for donation increases,” she said.
Females can’t be sold for human consumption because they are cut to remove the eggs, which are provided to the DNR to be hatched and returned to the river. The remaining eggs are sold as fish bait, and a much smaller portion is sold as caviar, she said.
Dickinson said veterans groups and other volunteers will concentrate their efforts in the region’s needier areas, including Fife Lake, Lake County, Kalkaska and areas outside of Petoskey.
Those wishing to receive fish must bring an appropriate container, such as a cooler, tote or a box lined with a garbage bag. It’s important to clean, cook or preserve the fish on the same day. Food pantries sometimes are unable to accept the fish because they don’t have the resources to clean them, he said.
Dickinson said the number of surplus salmon is unpredictable, so he announces the distribution sites on WTCM, Sunny 101.9 FM, TV 7&4, and TV 9&10.
He urges people who can afford to buy fish to stay away from the giveaways.
“If somebody shows up in a really nice suit and a GMC Yukon, like one did last year, I ask them if they wouldn’t mind not taking any,” he said.
The cost to transport the fish is coming out of the veterans’ pockets, said Dickinson, a Disabled American Veterans service officer.
“If we could give them $20 gas cards, that would be a great help,” he said.
Donations may be sent to the Disabled American Veterans,10309 Diamond Park, Interlochen, MI, 49643.