Suzanne’s Blog: Burbot in Exchange for Sunshine

Burbot is a remarkable fish well-suited to the Northern climate. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Living in the far North, I usually take Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, during the winter months (1000 IU/day).  This year I wanted to see if a local diet alone would keep my Vitamin D levels stable.  Not unexpectedly, my levels dropped below normal as the days became shorter.

But, thanks to local Dawsonite and ice fisher, Jim Leary, I was introduced to burbot and it saved the day!

Jim Leary ice fishing for burbot on the Yukon River. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Burbot is an amazing fish.  It is a freshwater, carnivorous, bottom feeder that thrives at the coldest times of the year under the ice of the Yukon River.  In fact, it has chosen January as its favourite spawning month.  Burbot live to be decades old.  They have no scales and some folks find them a bit ugly and eel like.  I think they have beautiful eyes.  A survivor if ever I saw one.  Which leaves me with some ambiguity about catching them.  But their flesh is a thick and delicious white fish and their livers are especially nutritious.

A burbot liver is six times the size of most other fish, and provides the Vitamin D that Suzanne and family need. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Burbot liver is huge – six times larger than the livers of other freshwater fish of the same size, and comprising about 10% of their body weight!  And their liver is packed with Vitamin D and Vitamin A, in fact 4 times the potency of the Vitamin D and A found in cod liver.

Turns out that a mere 10 grams of burbot liver per day would supply me with the equivalent of 1000 IU of Vitamin D.  Chopped into chunks and sautéed in butter, burbot liver tastes similar to scallops.  So consuming 150 grams of burbot liver every couple of weeks was no hardship on the palate.

And it worked!  Thanks to the burbot, my Vitamin D levels returned to normal.

Fish tend to accumulate toxins from our water systems, especially carnivorous bottom feeding fish.  I will share my findings on mercury levels in burbot and some other Yukon fish in the next blog.

If you’ve ever wondered about the nutrients in wild meat and fish harvested from the land, check out this comprehensive table of data compiled by Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment at the University of McGill:

Traditional Animal Foods of Indigenous Peoples of Northern North America

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