Marinette County WIGenWeb - Centennial History - Fishing

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Because of the quality, and abundance of fish in Green Bay, as well as the ready markets to the south and east, commercial fishing early became a lucrative industry. Shortly after the turn of the century, however, it was realized there had to be some regulation and restrictions enforced, or this important part of the economy would not be able to reproduce; thus closed seasons, on some species, were enforced. a local newspaper notes in the December 8, 1906 issue: "The open season for fishing white fish and trout will start on December 15, and most of the commercial fishermen are getting their gear arranged for the coming winter fishing season. During the closed season white fish and trout have become very scarce in local markets."

In early days, men of courage went out from landings in Marinette's Menekaunee area, from Philbrooks (now the end of Ogden Street), from Peshtigo Harbor and from many places in between, in handmade flat bottom sailboats, and on sail sleds in the winter, to place and lift nets. Later, more than thirty motor-powered "fishing tugs" were concentrated in "Fisherman's Harbor" in Menekaunee, bringing in tons of Whitefish, Perch, "Blue Fin" and Herring. These boats, many of them large, ranged Green Bay, into Lake Michigan, and as far away as Lake Superior, where the sturdy fishermen of Marinette's old First and Second Wards, sometimes battled the Finnish fishermen of Northern Keweenaw Peninsula over fishing grounds. This fine old fleet has dwindled now to comparatively few boats. A local paper of October 25, 1899, reviewed the past fishing season as follows: "The directors of the Green Bay Fisherman's Association met yesterday at Menekaunee and quickly disposed of the matter of selling off the season's catch. F.G. Dormer of Buffalo, wealthy wholesale fish dealer, made an offer for the largest portion of the catch and it was accepted. He purchased 25,000 packages (barrels) at $2.20 each for a total sale of $55,000."

"Catches" so tremendous that they are hard to believe today, were made by early fishermen. The following story was told by "Dad" Wright. "Dad" will be remembered by may residents of Dunbar, where he spent his last years. At the time he was a fisherman. They were fishing in a low flat, covered by rushes, 10 to 12 feet high.

"We found that the ice had not moved out yet, but all day long the wind had been blowing a gale, and at dusk the ice started. John Olson, C.E. Wright, George Edwards and his Dad had a big pile of driftwood and a tar barrel capstan at each end of the seine, and another, in the center, where we expected to land the fish on a sandy bay shore beach. We followed the ice out 80 rods with our south line and then threw over our seine going north, then back to shore. We had sixteen foot sweeps on the capstans, and we needed them. When we had our hauling line half in we changed to blocks up toward the center and grounded the ends of our seine.

"It was a dark night. An off shore wind was blowing the water flat, and before the top line was near shore we were hauling in perch, perch, perch, nothing but perch; 12 and 14 inch big flat "jumbos." We commenced scooping them up and putting them in salt barrels. These were of two sizes, 220 and 320 pounds capacity. When daylight came we had twenty barrels of fish. The old man hightailed it to the telegraph office. He wired Charles Witti and Sons for a price on perch. the wired back; perch, perch, hell no, we wouldn't pay the charges on them!"

Perch, Sturgeon and Walleye were considered "rough fish" in those days! tons of perch were dumped on the land for fertilizer!

(Marinette County Centennial 1879-1979, p. 6)

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