Yellow perch are North America’s most popular freshwater fish, having been commercially harvested for more than a century. Weighing up to a pound (450 g), they live in large schools in the shallow waters of the Great Lakes. Lake Erie, being the shallowest of the Great Lakes, has the most productive commercial fishery for yellow perch.
Yellow perch, as its name suggests, are recognizable by their pale golden yellow colour and dark stripes. The latter darkens during spawning for males. These colourful, small fish are common in freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers and brackish creeks. They inhabit all the Great Lakes and can be found as far east as Nova Scotia and as far west as Alberta. Hailed by many as “the ultimate pan fish,” yellow perch is rivalled only by Walleye as the most popular freshwater fish on restaurant menus.
Yellow perch can live for up to 11 years and reach sexual maturity by three years of age. Spawning occurs in spring during which time females deposit up to 40,000 eggs in gelatinous strings over weeds, roots, fallen trees and other vegetation in the shallows. Females have the potential to spawn up to eight times in their lifetimes. Most spawning takes place at night or in early morning. After fertilization, the eggs hatch in 11 to 27 days, depending on temperature. The young tiny fish school live along the shore for about a month. As they mature, the gregarious yellow perch begin to gather in large schools, preferring relatively shallow waters near shore. They are rarely caught in waters more than 30 feet deep.
This fishery uses curtains of netting suspended by a system of floats and weights to catch yellow perch. The fine netting is almost invisible, so perch unwittingly swim into the mesh.