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Let’s Eat: We have amazing fish - so let’s eat it

Eat the Fish connects Thunder Bay consumers with local fisheries.

Avid fisherman Paul Drombolis started his company, Eat the Fish to fill a gap in the market.

“I saw the need to connect local fishermen with local markets and local consumers,” he says. “There was a disconnect between fishers and consumers here. Buy local fish, not from outside our region.”

Although we live next to Lake Superior, most of the fish from the big lake ends up exported, he explains. “A lot of fish from Lake Superior ends up in the US market,” he says. "There are many pristine inland lakes with good fishing as well, but most people in Thunder Bay who don’t catch their own fish shop at grocery stores, which means buying walleye and other fish from Manitoba.

So Drombolis went around, trying to meet commercial fishermen at the docks. “I’d wait for them to come in, tell them about the idea of keeping fish for the local market,” he says.

Eat the Fish sources trout and whitefish from Lake Superior, trout and walleye from Lake Nipigon and Onaman Lake, and walleye, perch and black crappie from Lake of the Woods.

“We’re pretty fortunate here in Canada to have such pristine freshwater environments, compared to a lot of other places,” Drombolis says. “It’s some of the highest quality fish you can find anywhere in the world. So it just makes sense to enjoy these fish locally.”

He also gets wild-caught Arctic char from Inuit fishermen in Nunavut. Char season is short, starting in February. “It’s my favourite sashimi fish,” he says. Because the fishermen freeze it as soon as they catch it, the char is safe to eat raw. “I always tell people, “You should try it very simply done, or raw. Enjoy the flavour,’” he says. “The Inuit folks often eat it that way as well.”

“You can get char in the grocery store, but you’d never find wild Canadian char in a grocery store,” he adds. “Not all char are wild arctic char. Some are grown in pens and are a completely different product.”

Eat the Fish sells at the Thunder Bay Country Market, where Drombolis has a variety of fish, most filleted and frozen, but he always tries to have some fresh as well. The fish can be ordered and delivered through Superior Seasons’ online ordering system as well.

When the pandemic closed restaurants, Drombolis lost a chunk of his business. He started a fish subscription, like a CSA (community supported agriculture) box, so that he could continue buying fish from the fishermen with whom he’d established relationships.

“It was amazing. I was blown away by how many people were willing to make that commitment upfront, and pick up their fish each month for four months,” he says. “We did char subscriptions, Lake Superior subscriptions, and we had about 80 members. On our last pickup day, a lot of customers were asking if I’d do it again.”

Drombolis intends to keep the subscription model going. The system benefits the fishermen as well. “If I’m able to predict what my needs are early in the season, they can better understand what their year is going to look like as well,” he explains.

“I’d like to be able to continue to promote our regional fish for customers,” Drombolis says. “My main focus is reserving a place for local fish in our community and making sure that small and medium-sized commercial fishermen have a place to sell their fish locally, [with] less reliance on sending their fish away.”

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