Product Spotlight – Ontario Natural Wild Caught Fish

The Ontario Natural Food Co-op (ONFC) is a co-operative celebrating its 39th year in operation.  It has a long history within the organic, natural and independent marketplace and is an industry leader within the sector.

ONFC’s Mission is to proactively bring to market natural, organic and local foods and products within a co-operative network.

In 2005, in accordance with ONFC’s vision to live in a sustainable world from seed to plate, ONFC developed their own brand of products, and created the brand called Ontario Natural. The foundation of the brand is that the products must be grown, processed and produced in Ontario and must be certified organic, whenever possible.  10 years after the brand was developed, the product offering now includes 27 different SKU’s including organic tomatoes, pizza dough, frozen vegetables, beef, tofu, sauerkrauts and wild caught Manitoulin Island fish.

The Big Carrot is a big supporter of Ontario Natural products, especially the wild caught Manitoulin Island fish.  ONFC sources the fish from a 5th generation fishery that operates just off the shores of Manitoulin Island.  Both the whitefish and trout are sold frozen, in a couple of different formats including fillets, steaks and even smoked fillets.

Wild Caught Manitoulin Island Whitefish

Raised naturally and wild caught, in fresh waters surrounding the north and south side of Manitoulin Island, our Whitefish is caught then frozen and packed on the same day by a 5th generation family owned fishery. It is sustainably caught, recognized by Ocean Wise™ and the quick process ensures the freshest taste. Additionally, wild whitefish are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids making it a powerhouse of nutrition. Use our Wild Whitefish as a part of one of your favourite recipes or as the main dish for a great meal. To learn more about Ocean Wise visit their website.

Wild Caught Manitoulin Island Trout

Lake trout flesh is deep orange in colour and is delicious both BBQ’d or baked. Its flavour and texture is very similar to salmon steak, but with the benefits of having been wild caught and having higher counts of natural omega-3 fatty acids.

About the Fishery

The fishery that ONFC works with is a 5th generation family business that employs 20-25 people throughout the year.  The company was formed in 1902.  The fish are caught off of Manitoulin Island, in the waters of Lake Huron. This area is known for its pristine waters, excellent water depth and good year round water temperatures.  These are the elements that help raise high quality and healthy fish.

All of the fish are wild caught, meaning that they are free to roam where ever they want to, whenever they want to and eat whatever they want to.  This is a seasonal product, so the fish are caught between May and December, but this is very much dependent on Mother Nature.  In 2014, for example, they were 6-8 weeks later getting into the waters because of the amount of ice on the lake. The amount of fish and the species of fish that they catch is very much dependent on where the boats are and where the fish happen to be, so some years they catch more trout then whitefish and some years they catch more whitefish then trout.

There are 2 formats of netting that they use:

  1. Gill Netting – Gill netting is a selective means of catching fish you want to market. The size of the mesh, web strength, and net length and depth, regulate the size of the captured fish, so there is an extremely low incidence of bycatch, or non-target species (fish not intended for sale).
  2. Trap Netting – Trap netting is much like you would guess, with one important distinction, it’s a live trap; the fish are enclosed in an open volume of netting called a ‘pot’ and remain alive and are able to swim and feed until the trap is raised to surface. Unlike other animal traps, these nets are not baited; their success depends on the fish swimming into the trap and not being able to find their way out. During harvest, the fish are sorted and those which are not wanted, because of either their size or species, are returned to the water alive. This form of fishing requires patience and great knowledge of local waters while placing nets.

Once the fish are caught, the fishery owns a dock-side plant which provides them the ability to process the fish immediately, retaining as much freshness as possible.  This facility is federally inspected by the CFIA.  The fish are flash frozen and shipped down to ONFC on a regular basis, to ensure fresh stock in our warehouse.

We welcome your questions and comments; please visit our website to send us an email.


Jen Hyde is the Private Label Brand Manager at the Ontario Natural Food Co-op

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