Sportfishing vs. Tribal Fishery

During the early part of the 20th century it was still common for non-Native fishermen to engage in subsistence fishing and for many inland fisheries to be used for commercial harvest. There has been a shift in recent decades as fisheries have become depleted, from subsistence and commercial fisheries to fish farms (aquaculture facilities) for raising fish for commercial sale, and to regulate inland fisheries for recreational sportfishing. Subsistence fishing using high efficiency methods was outlawed and commercial fisheries closed. In the 1970's and 1980's much of the economy of northern Wisconsin was dependent on sportfishing-- many families owned small resorts, and many men were employed during the open season as fishing guides and outfitters. The area around the Ojibwe lands was close enough to Chicago to attract large numbers of weekend fishermen, and opening day saw the influx of mostly male recreational fishermen intent on having a rule-bound "contest" in catching their fish.

Sportfishing has become an even bigger business (just take a look at the "Disney World" experiences available at Bass Pro Shop and Cabela's!) According to the Wisconsin Department of Resources, in 2009:

  • Wisconsin annually sells about 1.4 million fishing licenses to adult anglers.
  • Anglers spent 20.8 million days fishing in Wisconsin in 2006.
  • Nearly 41 percent of Wisconsin residents 16 and over participate in fishing
  • Wisconsin is the second favorite destination spot for nonresident anglers
  • Anglers annually catch 88 million fish and keep 33 million fish of all kinds, releasing the rest to challenge anglers another day.
  • Wisconsin ranks among the top 5 states in terms of numbers of anglers, behind the more populous coastal states of Florida, California and Texas.
  • Fishing generates a $2.75 billion economic impact in Wisconsin
  • More than 30,000 Wisconsin jobs are supported by fishing
  • Fishing related activities and sales generate $200 million in state tax revenues for local and state government. Less than 1 percent is returned to DNR for traditional fisheries management.
  • 381,000 nonresident anglers fished in Wisconsin in 2006, spending a total of 3.8 million days and $280 million on retail goods.

---Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; American Sportfishing Association

In contrast to the recreational fishermen, traditional Ojibwe fishing techniques were "high efficiency" and used to procure fish used as food. Using spearfishing and nets an experienced fisher could take enough fish to feed not only their family but many households in their community. Sportfishing generates a large amount of revenue for the state because there is a tax on boats, motors, and gear, all of which are quite costly for the typical modern sportfishermen, and recreational fishermen often come from other areas and pay for restaurants, boat rental, guides and hotels. The Tribal fishery, in contrast, is local, and tends to be more oriented towards cost effectiveness-- low cost and often homemade gear, and no need for guides, resorts, etc.

According to the Wisconsin DNR:

Tribal Harvest

The six Chippewa tribes of Wisconsin are legally able to harvest walleyes using a variety of high efficiency methods, but spring spearing is the most frequently used method. In spring each tribe declares how many walleyes and muskellunge they intend to harvest from each lake. Harvest begins shortly after ice-out, with nightly fishing permits issued to individual tribal spearers. Each permit allows a specific number of fish to be harvested, including one walleye between 20 and 24 inches and one additional walleye of any size. All fish that are taken are documented each night with a tribal clerk or warden present at each boat landing used in a given lake. Once the declared harvest is reached in a given lake, no more permits are issued for that lake and spearfishing ceases.

Since 1985, 271 of 903 walleye lakes in the Ceded Territory have experienced tribal harvest. The number of lakes with tribal harvest in a given year has been between 144 and 171 every year since 1991. Total yearly tribal harvest has ranged from 18,500 to 30,558 fish for the past 13 years. Males comprise approximately 76% of all walleye speared each year. This is consistent with the relative numbers of males and females that make up spawning walleye populations in Wisconsin. The average length of walleyes speared is 15.5", and spear fishermen are restricted to a maximum of two fish longer than 20" for each permit issued.

The number of Walleye taken each year by the Tribal fishery is only 5-10% of the number taken by the recreational sportfishery (300,000 to 600,000 fish).