Why is this year unlike all other years? Polar Vortex Creates Shortage of Gefilte Fish

April 15th, 2014

The lingering effects of the Polar Vortex have now creeped into the Passover seder.

Why is this year unlike all other years? Because of the 11th plague — the polar vortex — which created a shortage of gefilte fish, the appetizer equally loathed and loved by generations of Jews.

The main ingredient in modern gefilte fish is whitefish, along with the traditional carp and possibly pike or mullet or, for the cosmopolitan, salmon. The vast majority of whitefish used by fishmongers, gefilte makers and home cooks in the United States comes from fisheries on the Great Lakes and in western Canada, according to Randall Copeland, vice president for operations at Manischewitz, the largest producer of gefilte fish in the world.

Though it may finally feel like spring in the rest of the country, up to four feet of ice still lingers on the lakes, which froze almost entirely during the winter.

“This isn’t dropping a line in the water and hauling fish in,” said Ronald Kinnuen, a fisheries specialist at Michigan Sea Grant, a cooperative run by Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. “These are huge nets, hundreds or thousands of feet in size, and costing $8,000 to $10,000. In these conditions, it’s foolish to try fishing.”

And, remarkably, Manischewitz buys their fish a year in advance. What, you thought it was fresh?

Manischewitz was largely spared the shortage because it buys its fish up to a year in advance, setting orders with suppliers for a mix of fresh and frozen fish. “We’ve been through enough lean times in the past to have learned our lesson and plan ahead,” Mr. Copeland said.

I’m sure this news will be met by some with anguish, and with others by relief.