Yellow perch start making their way to the Chesapeake Bay’s shallow, estuarial waters in January in preparation for spawning in the spring; hence, the roe sacs. To preserve the spawning stock, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources limits commercial yellow perch fishing in the upper part of the bay and the Patuxent and Chester rivers to a 48,220-pound quota and a short season: January, February and until March 10 or when the quota is reached, whichever comes first.
That the fish is local, managed, seasonal and of limited supply appeals to chefs.
Dino is one of maybe a dozen Washington area eateries that offer yellow perch. In his post, Gold described how he prepares it: He wraps the roe in bacon, pan-fries it alongside the whole fish and serves the dish with a sage and lemon salsa.
A week prior, Spike Gjerde, of Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen, served a yellow perch course during a guest-chef stint he did in Washington at Rogue 24. He poached the roe whole in bacon fat, browned it a saute pan and then sliced and plated it with a crisped perch fillet, spelt toast and creamy sunchoke puree.
Heretofore I had never thought of yellow perch as a prized local delicacy; all of a sudden two chefs were singing its praises in a week’s time. I always had associated yellow perch with Lake Erie or Midwest fish fries.
Steve Vilnit, whom Gold credits for introducing him to yellow perch, was hired two years ago by Maryland’s DNR to promote the state’s seafood, putting to effective use the 10 years of experience and connections he acquired working in the seafood industry. Now he connects watermen with potential customers.
And he helps the watermen make more money without necessarily having to catch more fish. Yellow perch is an excellent case in point. That the fish is popping up in area restaurants and fish stores is a recent phenomenon that reflects what can happen when effective fishery management and clever marketing come together.
“Yellow perch went from a fishery that was pretty depleted in the ’80s and ’90s, but by changing the way it was harvested, it has rebounded,” says Vilnit.
There was no local demand for the fish; it was being frozen and shipped to the Midwest.
Two years ago, the commercial fishermen were making about $1 a pound, Vilnit says. Now they’re getting closer to $3. (Yellow perch sell at retail for $5 to $8 per pound; their average weight is 8 to 12 ounces each.)