Imagine yourself sitting at your favorite restaurant, waiting for your delicious order of walleye. But what's this? Even though it looks the same, it tastes different. The fish you are tasting is probably a zander. You too could have been a victim of species substitution happening frequently at restaurants. Do you waste your time berating at the waiter and asking for a refund, or do you find a way to not get conned in the first place. Is a zander fish the same as a walleye?
FactWalleye and zander belong to the same genus sander of the percidae family.
Zander is mistaken for the pike quite frequently, because of its elongated body and the perch for its spiny dorsal fins. Although they may look the same, the lineage supporting these two branched out twelve million years ago. According to the FDA, serving zander in the name of walleye is illegal and termed species substitution. Walleye can be sold only as walleye or walleye pike. Here are the finer points through a zander vs. walleye fish discussion.
The scientific name of zander is Sander lucioperca. Also known as pike-perch, it generally attains a length of 20 - 26 inches, and weighs about 7 lb. The zander is bigger in size than the walleye, and the heaviest one weighed around 44 lb. The eyes are large and glossy, containing a reflective plate which increases their sensitivity at night or in poor light. It has two dorsal fins which are spaced apart, and a mouth with a formidable amount of fang-like teeth. The back is gray or brown in color, with gray striations on the tail. The other fins are pale yellow. The dorsal and caudal fins have 8 - 12 rows of dark spots. The maximum age for a zander to live is around 20 years.
The scientific name of walleye is Sander vitreus. Walleyes are olive to golden in color, in conjunction with a white spot on the bottom of the tail fin, and a black spot near the dorsal fin. It has spiny dorsal fins. It's called walleye because of the way the eyes are always pointing at the wall. The mouth is endowed with large teeth. Its body attains a length of 31 inches, and the maximum weight of a walleye is around 10 lb. The lifespan of a walleye can extend up to 26 years.
The zander is normally found in western Eurasia. It's unnaturally abundant in lowland rivers, and is most active during twilight. Although vegetarian at the start, they start preying on other fish as adults. They dominate in waters with low visibility, and have adapted to the sparsely vegetated murky waters. They need plenty of oxygen, and leave eutrophic areas in search of a better environment.
The walleye is a favorite of Minnesota, and resides in the lakes there. It's mostly found in Northern United States and Canada. Like the zander, it lurks in deep waters, and preys during dusk or dawn, due to its exceptional eyesight, giving it an advantage. Walleyes eat other fish, such as yellow perch and freshwater drum. They eat crayfish, snails, salamanders, and mudpuppies, when aquatic insects are not available.
Female zander generally produce about 200,000 eggs. Their preferred time of spawning is between April or May, depending upon the water temperature, which is usually about 53 degrees F (12 degrees C). The eggs are yellow-whitish in color, and take about 10 - 15 days to hatch. They are aggressively protected by both parents to ward off predators. They mature at the age of 3 or 4 years. They consume dead fish, and are known to team up with their shoal mates to hunt in a pack.
Walleyes migrate to tributaries to lay eggs on sand or shoals. Females produce about 500,000 eggs. They hatch between 15 - 30 days. Unlike the zander, it lets the hatchlings fend for themselves, and some of them get stuck in the cracks between rocks. The preferred time of spawning is when the temperature is around 43 - 50 degrees F (6 - 10 degrees C). They mature at the age of 4, and females, a year later. Juvenile and adult walleyes, both prey on other fish, such as minnows, crayfish, and leeches.
The zander is an extremely popular sport fish. It is caught best at night, with baits like rudd, silver bream, and gudgeon. They can be caught using a variety of lures, namely crankbaits, spoons, and jerkbaits.
The walleye is the more preferred fish, due to its large size and tender flesh. Like the zander, they tend to feed more at dawn or dusk when the light is dim in the depths of the sea. Fishermen refer to a patch of water with rough winds as 'walleye chop', one of the spots for good walleye.
Zander fish tend to die out pretty quickly, mostly because they prey on their own kind. Another reason is due to the decline of walleye, zander are fished more frequently. A way to preserve these fish is zander fish farming, which preserves them in an indoor environment, free of any predators (human or fish). They are fed non-saturated omega-3 fatty acids (DHA) in their larval stage. This helps them grow quicker and adapt better to the environment. From here, the fish are moved to a fish-pond environment, where they are raised on the same diet. They are later sold to fish farmers who cultivate them into full-grown fish, with their predatory instincts intact.
The consumption for walleyes has declined due to high levels of mercury and PCBs in the lakes inhabited by these fish. Methylmercury, a form of mercury which contaminates fish, is highly toxic to humans as well as wildlife. This is one of the main reasons for restaurants serving zander instead of walleye. Minnesota, which prides itself on being the walleye capital of the world, has advised its residents to pursue a catch-and-release policy. Anything under 22 inches is kept as lunch. This preserves the fish population for further consumption.