Fish Tales

Museum Third Saturday program dives into fishing history


The Sheboygan County Historical Museum will explore the history of the commercial fishing and processing industry as this month’s Third Saturday program Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. John Kulpa, Jr. (above), of Two Rivers, loads fishing nets for his still-active commercial fishing business. — Submitted photo Fishermen pose with the Roy K. Smith (below, left) while the boat is frozen in the Sheboygan River during the winter of 1936. The fishing shanties visible behind the boat once stood on land just west of the U.S. Coast Guard Station. — Photo from the collection of Richard Maas The fishing boat Ewig II (below, right) is christened. — Submitted photo Boats and shanties (bottom) are shown along Sheboygan River in November, 1967. — Photo from the collection of John Posewitz The Sheboygan County Historical Museum will explore the history of the commercial fishing and processing industry as this month’s Third Saturday program Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. John Kulpa, Jr. (above), of Two Rivers, loads fishing nets for his still-active commercial fishing business. — Submitted photo Fishermen pose with the Roy K. Smith (below, left) while the boat is frozen in the Sheboygan River during the winter of 1936. The fishing shanties visible behind the boat once stood on land just west of the U.S. Coast Guard Station. — Photo from the collection of Richard Maas The fishing boat Ewig II (below, right) is christened. — Submitted photo Boats and shanties (bottom) are shown along Sheboygan River in November, 1967. — Photo from the collection of John Posewitz “Commercial Fishing and Processing Industry” will be the “Third Saturday” program Saturday, Sept. 21 at the Sheboygan County Historical Museum, 3110 Erie Ave., Sheboygan.

Fishing has always been an important part of existence in Sheboygan County. The Native Americans that lived along the shores of Lake Michigan, and those who travelled from inland to set up camps during the fishing season, caught fish to supplement their diet and use as a trade item. It is assumed that the European voyageurs on their expeditions kept their stomachs full on the huge schools of fish they encountered.

The first industrial style fishing came to the shores of Sheboygan County in the early 1800s when fishermen from Michigan, and as far away as Ohio, would fish the untapped area off the western shore of Lake Michigan. It was not until 1840 before Sheboygan County saw its first permanent fisher in David Wilson, who set up his fishery near the dunes of Kohler- Andre Park in the township named in his honor.

By 1847, Gilbert Smith was fishing off the shore of the town of Holland and within five years had platted the village of Amsterdam, home to the Amsterdam Fishing Company. Within a couple of decades, there were several dozen pound nets set between the two locations catching the huge abundance of Whitefish.

As time continued, so did the fishing industry. For almost 100 years, commercial fishing thrived. Because of it, the processing and selling of fish was a thriving industry as well.

But, because of invasive species, overfishing, pollution and ever changing regulations, the industry collapsed. Attempts were made to harvest other species, but they did not have the commercial appeal of the beloved Whitefish. Many fishermen were forced to leave the job they loved. The businesses that depended on the industry closed, forcing many more to leave the industry.

The past 60 years has seen the number of fishing boats that called Sheboygan home dwindle. There are only two families left, of which one is seasonal. Fortunately, we still have a few of the voices left of those who remember when the industry was still strong.

Guest presenters will include Ken Stokdyk, a former fisherman who comes from a family of fishers.

Donna Susha will be sharing her memories of growing up in the Ewig fishing family. Ewig family members are still associated with the industry today. John Kulpa Jr., from Two Rivers, will be joining us to discuss the commercial fishing industry today. Kulpa currently fishes for his livelihood.

Neil Schwarz will join us to speak on The Schwarz Fish Co., a processing and sales business that has existed for over 100 years.

Along with them, we will be joined by Eldon Burg, who is involved in the fishing tug Islander restoration project which is located in the South Pier District. The Islander is a fishing tug donated by the Seger family.

Richard Smith, director of the Lighthouse Museum in Port Washington, will be showing his artifacts and displays on the commercial fishing industry as well.

City Historian Bill Wangemann will be sharing his information in a Power Point presentation. We also will be sharing information collected from Richard Maas, a former fisherman, as well as Gary and Glenn Seger, who currently fish commercially out of Sheboygan.

Please join us to experience the industry that provided the county with the traditional fish fries and fish boils that many of us still enjoy today.

“Third Saturdays” start at 10 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. Guests are welcome any time throughout the day. Lunch is available.

The admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children ages 7 to 12. Children ages 6 and under are free. Members and their guests are free.

The event is sponsored in part by H. C. Denison, Kohler Foundation Inc, Sargento Foods Inc, Windsor Family Foundation, Sheboygan Press, Alliant Energy Foundation, Great Lakes Blue Printers and Radio 1420 AM The Breeze. “Third Saturday” programs extend from January through October.


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