Identity Through Fishing

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Linda Spencer:
In our marina this year we have the tribal fishing boats, commercial fishing enterprise, the S & S fisheries, and it’s been quite a learning experience for all of us this year. There has been some controversy in the area. Some of it has been the sport fishermen have been concerned about the nets and them getting caught in the nets.

Don Stone, Little River Band of Ottawa:
What we’re doing is not just about fishing, it’s about protecting our sovereignty. Without this fishing we have no sovereignty, we have no reservation, we have no basis for even being if we don’t exercise our rights. I know that goes against the grain with a lot of people, but when it comes right down to it, if we don’t have this program, if we aren’t out there actively pursuing this livelihood, then this tribe really has no reason to exist.

Dick Hanson, Riley’s Bait & Tackle:
Well, it’s fishing activities primarily. It limits the fishing activity, that’s where most of the people would like to fish, on that shelf, that’s where everybody goes when they can. There’s thousands of dollars of tackle that has wound up in those nets right now. It sounds like there’s a little strife within the Indian community now because they’re getting so much bad publicity from this fishing that they may just discontinue it next year is what we’re hopeful of.

Next year we hope to be a little bit more viable in that we’ll have our own machinery to filet, eviscerate, scale fish, and hopefully—I believe probably within the next two years—we’ll have a going processing plant where we’ll actually package and have our own label.

Paul Schlafley, Riverside Charters:
They’re hard to fish around, and it’s going to affect the economy in this area and I just don’t see it helping anybody. I can deal with maybe a few nets, but not a bunch of nets, and they’re right in our prime fishing grounds. Is it going to affect my business? Probably not, because as long as I catch fish, I’m still going to bring my people back. But the fishing pressure definitely right here in the area I was fishing was way down. Next year, add more, add more, add more—that’s what scares us.

The intrinsic right and the intrinsic idea of this whole thing is still there, the basis for it. Sure, there’s modern equipment, but we’re not going to go out and fish like we did 100 years ago. That would be absurd. So, it all comes back down to, one, trying to make a livelihood out of this, and, two, that we have a sustainable fishery out there. We’re not going to go out and over-harvest. We’re very aware of what we take from the Great Lakes and we’re not going to diminish that knowingly. We’re very conscious of conservation. So there are going to be whitefish and fishermen hopefully for years to come.

This represents some change in the area, and I think in time everything will get worked out and they’ll be able to co-exist. Lake Michigan is an awfully big lake to not be able to co-exist.

Video courtesy of tdndavid/YouTube, 2007

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