A new twist on fish fry

I always tip the wait staff, no matter how bad they are, because I was once the very worst waitress in the history of Friday night fish fry. My first week of work at the Barley Pop Pub in Germantown, Wisconsin I dropped an entire tray of drinks for a table of ten, practically into the patrons’ laps, when the sleeve of my oversized polo caught on a chair right as I arrived at the table. I rushed back to the bar, where the bartender tried to calm me down as he quickly refilled the order, and for my encore I dropped the entire tray again because I was shaking so bad from nerves.

 Friday night fish fry is a big deal in Wisconsin. Most Fridays, the Barley Pop overflowed with people waiting to be seated, and the cod, rye bread, fries and coleslaw flew out of the kitchen as if the plates were spring-loaded. Unfortunately, fish fry as we know it might soon be a thing of the past if reports from the New England Fishery Management Council are true. They warn that that Atlantic cod are becoming dangerously over-fished and populations of the fish are dropping. Happily, though, I think that I have a solution to save the cod and keep the fish fryers sizzling too.

Carp harvest at Bone Lake, winter 2010

The Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District (CLFLWD) has an ambitious five-year project underway to breath life back into Bone Lake, in northern Washington County, and Moody Lake, in southern Chisago County. The district’s goal is to reduce phosphorus by 1600 pounds per year, equivalent to 800,000 pounds of algae, so that both lakes meet Minnesota’s water quality standards by 2019. CLFLWD also hopes to improve fisheries in Bone and Moody Lakes by controlling rough fish populations and restoring native aquatic plant communities.

The district kicked off the first phase of their project during winter of 2010 when they harvested more than 23,000 pounds of carp from Bone Lake and 3,600 small bullheads from Moody Lake. For those of you keeping track, 23,000 pounds of carp could probably feed at least one thousand hungry Packer fans, more if you went heavy on the rye bread. The district’s next step is to construct three low-flow fish barriers to keep the rough fish from taking over the lakes again.

CLFLWD has a $283,000 Conservation Partners Legacy Grant for the fish barriers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund, and is currently in the process of getting state and local approval for the engineering design. Although the barriers will keep fish out, they are designed to have no effect on water levels. Before the barriers are constructed next winter, the district will have two informational meetings for local landowners to ask questions and learn about the project.

Once the fish barriers are in place in 2013, CLFLWD will begin chemical treatment to prevent the release of phosphorous already in the sediment at the bottoms of Bone and Moody Lakes and also to control invasive curly leaf pondweed. Most importantly, perhaps, the district will work with shoreline landowners and other people whose property drains to the lakes to install shoreline plantings and raingardens and repair gullies and other erosion problems to keep additional sediment and phosphorus from washing into Bone and Moody Lakes. The district will provide grants and free design assistance to interested landowners for these projects and can begin scheduling site visits as early as this spring.

Comfort Lake - Forest Lake Watershed District harvested carp to improve Bone Lake

Carp have become a major nuisance in many local lakes because they uproot native aquatic plants and stir up sediment on the lake bottoms, muddying the water and making nutrients available to hungry, growing algae. By my calculations, we could harvest several thousand pounds of fish per week from Minnesota lakes to help save our local fisheries and keep establishments like the Barley Pop frying, if only we can convince the good people of Wisconsin to begin eating carp. Having tried it once, I’ll vouch for its tastiness and I’m willing to make the sales pitch to my fellow cheeseheads. If you need a waitress to serve the fish, though, you might want to hire someone else.

For more information about the Bone and Moody Lake Projects, visit www.clflwd.org or contact Doug Thomas at doug.thomas@clflwd.org or (651) 209-9753.