Monday, March 6, 2023



Redfin Shiner

Golden Shiner

Emerald Shiner

Bock Shiner

Creek Chub

Bluntface or Whitetail Minnow

Another Bluntface or Whitetail

Fathead minnow

Atlantic Silverside
Hawaiian Sliverside Minnow

The idea of cultivating minnows in ephemeral ponds has been bandied about as an improvised food production strategy during austere times.

The thinking is that protein and fats are always at a premium in those situations. Furthermore, shallow ponds are not likely to contribute much food otherwise except for migrating waterfowl that can be harvested.

Minnows reproduce with abandon and grow quickly and in a pinch can be cooked and eaten whole.  Minnows have low oxygen requirements. Being small, they dry quickly.

Minnows might be a viable crop on shallow ponds that "freeze out" every winter because of their quick turn-around times.

Minnows have the potential to produce significant amounts of fresh-weight per unit area because, being small, they are closer to the start of the food-chain.

Filter-feeders are the closest to the start and have the advantage of being low in toxins that can bio-accumulate.

Bottom feeders tend to have more toxins because...they are bottom feeders. Dead animals sink to the bottom and are consumed by bottom feeders.

Minnows, as eaters of plankton, are very responsive to fertilizer and consequently don't need to be fed human or near-human quality food. What is "near-human" quality food? It is food that you would not feed to your family but to your chickens and hogs.

Minnows, being "less desirable" are likely to be overlooked by human raiders.

Because of the quick turn-around and minimal investment, the venture has a very quick pay-back period and makes a one growing-season venture worth trying.

Negatives include their vulnerability to herons, predatory fish, fish-eating waterfowl, kingfishers, mink and so on. Harvesting from soft-bottomed ponds can be challenging. Processing can be tedious.


Are minnows edible?

Are they edible raw? Maybe...but there are issues with parasites and the high level of thiaminase, an enzyme that is destroyed when cooked.

How do they taste?  Spoiler: You can expect a minnow to have a very subtle fish flavor that will take on the taste of whatever sauce you cover it in or the preparation method you use. The taste of minnows is not especially life-changing or impressive and falls into the category of a relatively bland dish that pairs with most flavors. They can be slightly bitter if you eat them whole (without gutting them) 

Ethno-history of minnows as food

Meat Quality Assessment of Minnows in Russia  Spoiler, good for oil, low quality protein!

By-the-way, all of this research was donated by the incredible Lucas Machias, the rock-star of research. Thanks Lucas!


  1. The Emerald Shiner looks just like another bait/food fish...Anchovy.

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  3. Very interesting, thanks. A minnow trap is the modern weir trap. With a few 5 gallon buckets to carry the seed stock you could indeed seed your pond.

    Nice to have fish traps as well as trot lines for low effort fish harvesting.

    Also, for those with enough salt there is Garum the original Fish Sauce. A method of preserving it in humid environments like the Mediterranean, Laos and Thailand. Fish sauce is international.

  4. Watch Utube to learn how to on minnow/fishtraps. Also If you look there several good books on subsistence fishing. Growing up in th Ozarks we could get ten pounds of crawfish in an hours work with a seine net . Combine that with two trot lines and a couple of homemade fish traps, it would provide food for six to eight people for a weekend on the river.

  5. I used to watch the Asians fishing off the local pier catch small fish, lay them on the cement to "dry" for a bit, and then pop them in their mouths. Given whatever might've been in the fish and on that cement, I'd say those Asians' immune systems were top notch!

  6. In the 1890’s Atlantic silversides were harvested by the millions and shipped to NYC, sold fried in fat as “whitebait”. I trapped some in Narragansett bay and fried them up - very good. (1980s).

    1. Interesting. I thought I had heard they were used for that but didn't find it. There is a commercial fishery for them but it is for pets, etc. I used to see tons of them in MA estuaries and would foul hook them on occasion. They could be thick. I often wondered how they would taste.

  7. This is particularly interesting. One additional consideration location wise might be the availability of small ponds/very marshy areas in dense cover adjacent to and "downstream" of a larger lake. I'm not aware of a specific word covering what I mean, so I'll explain for those outside the Midwest.

    Many Midwest ponds/lakes (and in other places I'm sure) are chunks of wider/open water where either a creek is locally stuck before going underground or there is a tiny (often damned and diverted through tunnels outflow/drain system). Sometimes the lake is what is a called a kettle lake, essentially a divot in the land left behind when the glaciers went back to Canada. Kettle lakes have very deep for their surface area areas. A small 100-250 acre lake might have 1-3 deep areas 60 foot+ deep, with an inflow marsh and and outflow marsh.

    The outflow marshes, where they still exist, often have .25-1 acre open areas dotting them in extremely thick cover. My hypothesis is that these outflow areas, especially the small open clearings in them, would be ideal for raising minnows/locating fish traps. Especially if someone was able to cut and cover (for a few yards at least) a well defined inflow channel into the pre-existing small open area. You'd have a source of fish, a huge source of plankton (the larger lake), sustained (but slow) waterflow through the small pond and you'd be able to access it through a high-cover area.

    3 downsides that immediately come to mind are:

    1. Cutting/maintaining/grooming/improving this channel is extremely labor intensive for a least a few days per year. As a kid we made a 1 yard wide by 4 yard deep boat "dock" via cutting a rectangle out of an island in a marsh and it's pretty well up there with the hardest/messiest manual labor adventures I've done.

    2. Access is sneaky, but moving through the marshes requires defined paths much of the year. Piled up stumps/log chunks to be walked on or you need to wade through .5-2 feet of water and 1-4 feet of ultra-thick gloopy mud. Fixed paths can be worrying, but this is also the kind of area where local knowledge would rain supreme and someone new to the area/just moving through would be almost impossible lost so long as you didn't make the trails straight lines (think all the myths/legends of creatures luring people in bogs/marshes never to be seen again).

    3. This is an "interesting to have" feature, but by no means something common or necessarily available within a mile radius of any given location.

    I can think of a handful of similar locations in the Lansing area, some that are bordering too small (no cover, but maybe still better than being visibly fishing on Grand River in interesting times) or too large (could potentially be a good panfish spot with some work).

    1. A nice side benefit of those improvements for a steady fish supply is that muck your moving is excellent side dressing for your fruit trees-bushes and gardens.

      What you're talking about was described in Farmers of 40 Centuries in many parts of Asia. It's how Asia fed themselves before diesel and shipped in fertilizer was available.

  8. "Minnows, as eaters of plankton, are very responsive to fertilizer and consequently don't need to be fed human or near-human quality food. What is "near-human" quality food"

    May I suggest feeding them post chicken/duck food....
    Years ago I saw a book illustrating a duck /pig pen at end of a bamboo 'dock' over a wetland/rice paddy environment in China.
    One input became output, which became a different input....and so the wheel turns

    Food for thought (or not)

  9. I didn't do much. Just some google searches.

    I didn't mention it but I thought about Brown Bullheads (Ameiurus nebulosus) as a fish of interest. A friend from NY raves about how delicious they are. They can live most anywhere and are abundant.. There is a local marsh here that is loaded with them. Herons, otters, etc are predating them constantly. It makes me wonder how many are there. The marsh is a few acres. Catching them in numbers might be an issue.


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