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Goby: Nuisance or dinner?

The round goby may have more in common with catfish than one would think. In parts of Europe and Asia, gobies are a common part of dinner, just as catfish is in some parts of the United States. "(There's) a big commercial market for them in Europe," said Carey Knight, a fisheries biologist for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. "Some people from Michigan State University actually cooked some up, and they said they were very good." In Venice, Italy, gobies are a source of nutrition and often are served with pasta. They are served fried in Hong Kong, and appear in a dish called "macher jhal" (literally, "fish in hot mustard") in Bangladesh. But so far, the goby is known locally as little more than a nuisance bottom fish that is fouling Lake Erie and its sport-fishing industry.

Paula Jessep and Keith Semerod, two anglers who recently were catching gobies and little else off the South Pier, said they'd never thought about eating them. Until now. "A fish is a fish, and I guess I'll try anything," said Jessep, 23. Twenty-five-year-old Semerod, however, put a condition on trying the small fish: "Somebody else would have to fix it."

Lake Erie's increasing round-goby population – Knight said the fish can reproduce every 18 days –has fishermen upset and concerned. To fishermen, the goby can provoke rage because it eats bait meant for game fish, such as perch or bass. "You don't have a chance to catch anything else," said South Pier visitor John Marques. "It's gobies!" Marques, 14, said that he has already caught between 75 and 100 round gobies this year. His solution to the goby problem is simple. "Just keep killing them off," he said, noting that he sometimes just leaves them on the pier to be eaten by birds. In fact, even some officials are recommending exterminating the fish.

Pennsylvania Sea Grant, part of the U.S. Commerce Department-administered National Sea Grant Network, suggests fishermen not throw the gobies back into the water, but instead to dispose of them – either in the trash or by freezing them.

Round gobies are believed to have made their way to the Great Lakes via transoceanic vessels that passed through the Black and Caspian seas, to which the fish are native.

John Bowser of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission said he agrees with local anglers who want to do away with the gobies. But he said the proper way to dispose of them isn't to leave them on the pier or to throw them into the bushes. "They can be disposed of in a proper trash receptacle - or used as fertilizer," he said.

Knight said gobies actually do have an important role in the waters of Lake Erie. Gobies helped solve the problem with the zebra mussel – another creature that made its way into the Great Lakes via seagoing freighters – by eating them. "There's a lot of good things that gobies provide," Knight said.

However, whether gobies make a good dinner is something Erie has yet to discover. And that's probably a good thing, said Fred Snyder, a district Sea Grant specialist at the Ohio State University extension. He noted that gobies feed on zebra mussels, which contain high levels of polychlorinated biphenyl's because they filter all that they eat through their gills. The PCBs then accumulate in the gobies, he said. "I wouldn't eat them myself," Snyder said. "And it's based on an ongoing study that tracks the movement of PCBs from zebra mussels to gobies to the smallmouth bass."

* Tue, 7/16/2002

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