Fisheries

 

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fish house at Belle Isle
Building #305, Emil Anderson fish house and dock at Belle Isle, circa 1950s.

National Visual Inventory Cards 50-1093

The Most Lasting Commercial Endeavor

The historic structures and outbuildings you see here are part of Isle Royale's rich cultural heritage. This particular complex was associated with a commercial fishing interest, an activity that has a long and interwoven history on Isle Royale. In contrast with other island endeavors, such as mining, lumbering and tourism, commercial fishing has provided a livelihood for men from the 1830's to times more recent. Nearly every inlet, island, and sound of the archipelago has had its cluster of weatherbeaten shanties, wharves and fishhouses. All commercial fishery locations were subsequently purchased by the federal government following creation of Isle Royale National Park in 1931. Even though the National Park Service now owns all the land and buildings on Isle Royale, some families still return to the former fisheries and are allowed to do so through a special agreement with the National Park Service.

 
four men pulling in a large fish with a net

History of Fishing at Isle Royale

Commercial Fishing in the 19th and 20th Centuries: An Account of the Methods Employed and Most Sought-after Fish

 

American Fur Company


 
map displaying 7 AFC fisheries scattered evenly across the island shorelines

Isle Royale Institute / Joseph Pilkington

 

Washington Harbor


 
map displaying location of fishing structures on Barnum Island and surrounding islands

Isle Royale Institute / Joseph Pilkington

 

Siskiwit Bay


 
map displaying location of fisheries in the Siskiwit Bay section of Isle Royale

Isle Royale Institute / Joseph Pilkington

 

North Shore


 
map displaying location of fisheries in the North Shore section of Isle Royale

Isle Royale Institute / Joseph Pilkington

 

Tobin/Rock Harbor


 
map displaying location of fisheries in the Rock Harbor and Tobin Harbor sections of Isle Royale

Isle Royale Institute / Joseph Pilkington

 

Chippewa Harbor


 
map displaying location of fisheries in the Chippewa Harbor section of Isle Royale

Isle Royale Institute / Joseph Pilkington

 
fish house with net drying racks behind it, cabin on the left
Photo of Amygdaloid Island circa 1950s.

National Visual Inventory Cards 50-1088

From Private Property to National Park

Many of the fisheries were in place before National Park status, some having been established in the late 19th century. However, most fishermen were squatters and did not own the island properties they occupied. In such cases fishermen were permitted to fish commercially within Park waters but on a modest scale. For the fewer number of cases where land was indeed owned, life leases were granted in return for a lower purchase price. The lease agreement was a concept adapted from Shenandoah National Park and allowed former property owners and their next of kin provisional use of the fishery buildings. As part of the agreement, maintenance and upkeep would be performed by the families. In many respects the presence of the remaining fisheries on Isle Royale today can be credited to the tenure of the life lease.

 
 

Last updated: September 25, 2020

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