The Sayers are a proud Ojibwe family, who have established a successful fishery business, Sayers Fishery, on the shores of Lake Superior. Co-owner Laura Sayers speaks proudly about her Dad, Jon Sayers, and how he was instrumental in ensuring that Indigenous communities retained certain fishing rights; a fight against injustice that made a big difference for Indigenous fishers across Ontario.
Today, the children of Jon Sayers, including Laura and her brother Jon Jr., along with other family members, operate Sayers Fishery on Batchawana Bay, on Lake Superior at Corbeils Point on the Obadjiwan Reserve.
Almost every day, Jon brings in fresh fish and Laura handles the fish at their modern processing facility. “The fish that comes out of Lake Superior and Lake Huron are processed on the same day,” said Laura. The day I visited Laura, she was in the midst of de-boning her smoked fish and getting it ready for one of their popular products; smoked fish pâté.
Laura told me that she learned the art of smoking fish from her grandmother. She talked about how they sell whole fresh fish to caterers because they like to use them for presentation. As well, older customers enjoy whole fish because this is a traditional way they like to eat fish, while younger clients like it because it reminds them of meals with their grandparents. Otherwise, she will cut the fillets into steak cuts, or de-bone and de-skin for those who want the convenience. Her two types of pâté are blended with just the right proportion of cream cheese and lake trout or whitefish, for superb flavour (a real favourite with customers, and children love it).
The smoking process is quite labour-intensive, and Laura is very particular about her smokers, which were custom designed by her. They are constructed of food-grade stainless steel, and she uses propane for the heat source and utilizes select maple chips to both cook and bring out the flavour of the fish. She insists that the sugar maple trees used, need to be a certain age, not wet or too green. Laura told me that she will smoke fish every day, year-round, within a 12-hour period and is capable of smoking 130 fish at a time. She explained that a lot of care and overseeing goes into the process to ensure that the results are perfect. “Weather is a big factor in this process and can vary the cooking/smoking time—I have to adjust my methods based on the weather conditions.”
On the lake, Laura explained that they and other Canadian fishers use specially sized gill nets, which are properly set to let the smaller and younger fish through. Laura feels that their practices lead to a more healthy and sustainable fishery. Unfortunately, the American fishers use trap nets, which indiscriminately catch everything. For waters that are shared, she is hoping that fishing practices will be changed so that the resources will be sustainable for everyone on both sides of the Great Lakes.
Their lake trout comes from the North Channel of Lake Huron from Dave Carlson Fisheries. Laura explained that Lake Superior trout is too fatty and doesn’t smoke well. Their lake whitefish comes out of Lake Superior.
One new and delicious smoked product that Laura has come up with, which she refers to as “Fish Candy,” uses maple syrup produced by Mountain Maple Products from St Joseph Island. She recommends that their pâté be served on a cracker, accompanied by Thomson Farms Cidery & Winery’s strawberry jalapeno jam.
Laura has even found a use for all of the fish skin that would otherwise be thrown out. She makes them into dog treats after drying them and rolling them. It's proven to be very popular with her customers and their dogs.
It was a pleasure getting a tour with Laura and a short history of their fishery. Her pride and attention to detail are evident in their delicious products and her family’s story.
Many of their summer clientele, cottagers, campers, and travellers in the area, can also purchase directly from their processing facility in Batchawana, which has a new retail store attached.
Sayers superior smoked fish
176 Corbeil Point Road, Obadjiwan Reserve, Batchawana Bay
PH: (705) 882-2445