By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is the time of year when people line up on Friday nights to get a fried piece of white fish.

At Catholic churches and local restaurants, many Americans are eating fish during Lent. But how much fish do we eat during Lent?

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“It is a big deal, but not necessarily for fresh fish,” said Mike Higgins, president of The Fish Guys, a Twin Cities fish distributor.

Indeed, if you’re eating a filet-o-fish or an all-you-can-eat fish fry, it’s almost certainly a frozen fish.

A McDonald’s in Cincinnati created the Filet-o-Fish in 1962. McDonald’s now sells more Alaskan Pollack than anyone. Three hundred million filet-o-fishes are sold a year, 25 percent during Lent. This year the company unveiled Fish Bites, the McNugget of Pollack.

“You can’t really walk three blocks in St. Paul without hitting a fish fry,” said Steph Shimp, vice-president of marketing for Blue Plate Restaurant Group. Her company’s Groveland Tap in St. Paul has lines out the door for its all you can eat Friday Fish Fry.

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“We are up 30 percent over a regular non-Lent week,” Shimp said.

According to Seafood Business Magazine, just in the first week of Lent salmon sales go up 30 percent, tilapia 32 percent, and cod jumps 60 percent.

It’s hard to know how much of this consumption is due to faithful Catholics, or the power of advertising, as McDonald’s, Arby’s, and all the local supermarkets are advertising specials on fish this time of year.

“I think there’s an awareness campaign with it,” Shimp said.

The Fish Guys, Coastal Seafood, and Morey’s all reported relatively minor bumps in their fresh fish businesses because of Lent.

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“It’s not what it once was,” Higgins said.

Jason DeRusha