You wouldn't normally think of landlocked Winnipeg as a place where 14 million kilograms of fish are processed and sold each year, but that is exactly what goes down at the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation.
"Freshwater draws fish from all of the prairie provinces and the Northwest Territories," said CEO John Wood. "It's an area the size of western Europe, with about 2000 fisheries in 60 or more isolated and northern communities. So it's actually quite a large operation that most people don't realize is here."
Indeed, I was one of those people, but once I toured the facility the amount of net-caught wild fish on hand had me reeling.
Freshwater Fish employees process pickerel (Mike Green)
The 110 thousand square foot plant can have up to 250 people working the floor in the high season where upwards of 100 thousand kilograms of wild caught fish awaits processing.
And we're not just talking about pickerel - although that certainly is the fish of choice for the North American market.
"We sell a lot of walleye down to the U.S.," said Wood. "Well it starts here as pickerel, but becomes walleye as it crosses the border.
"But we are also selling to 14 other countries in the world. We're selling Northern pike into France... we're the largest supplier of caviar into Finland and Sweden, and we're selling Northern pike caviar into Romania," Wood continued.
And it doesn't stop there, whitefish is finding a large market in Russia, tullibee - also known as cisco or lake herring - becomes gefilte fish for the kosher market in New York, sauger goes to Belgium, and they've been trying to break into the Chinese market since late last year with walleye.
85 per cent of the business is exports, but that doesn't mean you can't find some of their lake caught products on Winnipeg shelves.
Aside from the obvious pickerel, this food writer recommends you seek out their pike or whitefish caviar from independent retailers like Mariner Neptune.
As the Europeans already know, it's a damn fine ingredient. And we'll only see more of it at local markets if that demand increases.