The cold, hard winter caused a bit of a Passover crisis for bubbes in the Great Lakes region. Whitefish, a traditional ingredient in gefilte fish recipes, is in short supply.

Usually this time of year, the Great Lakes have thawed, allowing fisherman to provide all the whitefish needed for Passover celebrations. This year, though, the lakes are still frozen solid and there simply is not enough whitefish to go around.

“It’s like an iceberg,” Andy Johnson, a fish shop owner said of still-hardened ice. “It tears up the nets so the fishermen aren’t even out there fishing for it right now.”

One grocer explained his stock has decreased dramatically this year and costs are up as a result.

“We should have 200 pounds,” Chicago store manager Ademola Olurotimi said. “Ten or 20 pounds is what we do have. We’ve been promised a few tomorrow, but that’s not even guaranteed.”

The fish that are available also tend to be smaller than the average whitefish and cost up to 50 percent more a pound due to the shortage, making the jellied fish Passover dishes more costly this year.

According to Johnson, the current fish shortage is unlike anything anyone has seen for quite some time in the region and the impact goes far beyond the seder plate.

“This happens every year, but with the cold weather it’s extended a lot longer this time,” he explained, adding that while it may be inconvenient for Passover cooks, it has devastated the local fishermen who rely on their catches to pay their bills and hasn’t helped retailers business either.

Although purists may scoff, fishmongers say Passover cooks can substitute tilapia or cod for whitefish in this year’s recipes or a similar, if slightly less authentic, holiday fish dish.

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