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FishOn! Chefs explore Lake Champlain as Food Source

August 24, 2017

4 years ago, Vermont Fresh Network staff met with James Ehlers of Lake Champlain International (LCI) because James had a question: Why aren’t Vermont chefs using local fish? The answer was simple – they had no idea that they could. But knowing what resources the lake holds is an important part of engaging Vermonters in protecting the lake waters. So, VFN and LCI set out together to change the perception of Lake Champlain fish by bringing chefs, farmers and influencers out fishing on the lake to discuss the importance of Lake Champlain’s water quality and the potential the lake holds as a food source. 

Over the past four years, VFN and LCI have independently supported pilot fishing trips, a series of fish chowder competitions and educational events for the FishOn! project. This summer, the two organizations will take 40 food professionals out on the water for discussion, education and (of course) fishing! This summer's work was made possible by grants from the Lake Champlain Basin Program and the Waterwheel Foundation

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Sara Granstrom, owner of Lincoln Peak Vineyard in New Haven, participated in a trip out of Vergennes with the FishOn! team and Captain Obe White of Cloud Nine Charters. “Our conversation on board Obe's boat drove home how many layers there are to unravel in our work toward a cleaner watershed, and how 'the system' isn't serving any of us very well. It is simultaneously daunting to take in the magnitude, and heartening to hear about the dedicated people who are working towards a cleaner lake,” Sara said after the trip. 

The feeling Sara describes has been shared by many participants in FishOn! over the last several years. Executive Chef Doug Paine of Bleu Northeast Seafood and Juniper Bar and Restaurant reflected after his initial trip out on the water “Being on the lake was the most moving part. I had no idea it was so pristine. It really made me motivated to protect it. I also had no idea perch was available. Prior to FishOn! we served local fish a handful of times, now it’s on the menu at both Bleu and Juniper; we sell about 40 lbs a week.” 

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Sodexo is committed to the future of Vermont’s agricultural economy through their Vermont First initiative to source local food. That’s why Vermont First Coordinator, Annie Rowell is heading out on a trip next week with SureStrike Charters. “Lake Champlain, as a vital resource for the state of Vermont, is heavily impacted by agricultural activity and also offers potential for Vermont and regional markets. We are so excited to participate in Fish On! as a hands-on experiential opportunity to learn more about what we can do to be responsible stewards of the lake,” Annie shared. 

The FishOn! boating expeditions with SureStrike and Cloud Nine Charters create an opportunity for in depth conversations about how human activities impact Lake Champlain and options for improving lake health. The program's goal is to create a culture of stewardship for clean water among Vermont’s food professionals. Fishing provides a unique and compelling physical manifestation of the connection between our food system and our water quality. 

A culminating dinner at Basin Harbor in the early fall will celebrate Lake Champlain fish, along with local foods from the Champlain basin - stewardship of these lands is vital to the lake’s future. The dinner is open to the public. It is a chance to explore Lake Champlain through half hour long evening cruises on the EScape cruise boat and for FishOn! participants to share what they learned with a broader audience through what VFN knows best - delicious food. There will be appetizers followed by a dinner by the water that features fish along with other fresh, local products. Please stay tuned for ticketing information and event details.

This project has been sponsored by grants from the Lake Champlain Basin Program and the WaterWheel Foundation

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