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Fisheries and Aquaculture in Wis.

What is your favorite Wisconsin tradition? With such a strong focus on community, foods, and pride in our state, there’s so many to choose from! One of our more delicious traditions is the Friday night fish fry, and it’s for good reason. Wisconsin is home to several dozen commercial fisheries and farms where fish are raised for consumption, plus many of our lakes and rivers offer a multitude of fish for at-home eating! 

As part of the 77th Alice in Dairyland finals in Door County, Top Candidates and I visited Baileys Harbor Fish Company, owned and operated by the Hickey brothers. We watched as the small team processed that morning’s catch of whitefish from Lake Michigan while learning more about their business from Dennis Hickey and his daughter, Carin. 

Early each morning, as conditions allow, the team starts their days out on the lake. The nets they use contain the fish but keep them alive, allowing the crew to put back fish that are undersized or of the wrong species, helping ensure the sustainability of the fish population. Whitefish or yellow perch are their usual targets. Once that sorting is completed, the fish are brought back to Baileys Harbor for processing. 

The fish are again sorted, this time just by size, and are sent through several steps, with the end result being two fresh fish filets from each fish. Baileys Harbor Fish Company offers both retail and wholesale options, so further processing depends on their end destination. The filets can be packaged fresh, frozen, smoked, or turned into value added products like their delicious whitefish spread! 

Commercial fisheries like Baileys Harbor Fish Company are primarily on Lake Michigan, though we also have a couple on Lake Superior. These companies are allotted a quota and must share data at various intervals with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to help maintain a healthy fish population. According to, other commercially caught species here in Wisconsin include walleye, lake trout, burbot, and more. 

Farm-raised fish are also quite common here in Wisconsin, helping ensure a steady supply of some of our favorites, like trout, tilapia, salmon, and even shrimp. This process is called aquaculture and is a growing industry in our state and across the country. There are a variety of methods to raise these fish, including aquaponics systems, which allow vegetables like lettuce to be grown on top of the water that the fish are being raised in. Wisconsin is home to the largest aquaponics facility in the world, Superior Fresh, located in Hixton. There are a handful more companies raising fish in this way spread throughout the state, but the ecosystem the fish and plants live in looks similar no matter the company. 

As the fish are growing, they are naturally producing waste that is fertilizing the water they live in. These nutrients feed the plants, resulting in an efficient and sustainable process. The water can be recycled through the systems and the plants help to purify the water while growing. Superior Fresh shares that for every five pounds of fish feed they input, they are able to harvest about six times that weight in fish and leafy greens. Nelson and Pade Inc., an aquaponics company in Milton focused on education and research, has grown more than 20 different crop species in their systems, including beans, peas, broccoli, sunflowers, aloe, and even lemons and pomegranates! 

With such a supply of healthy, delicious fish, there is no wonder that the Friday night fish fry is one of our more popular traditions. Whether cooking it up at home or going out for the night, try to support local fisheries and the restaurants and businesses that utilize their harvests. Visit to find options for locally harvested fish near you!

—  Ashley Hagenow is the 76th Alice in Dairyland, Wisconsin’s agriculture ambassador who works with media professionals to educate consumers about the importance of agriculture to Wisconsin’s economy and way of life. She can be reached at