Commercial Fishing Was Important Historically For Great Lakes Fishing

The fish that inhabit the waters of the Bruce Peninsula have always been an important part of this area's economy. Consequently, throughout the history of the region the fishing industry has been a source of controversy and change. 


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Commercial Fishing History

Today, sport fishing is a major component of the area's tourism economy.

Commercial fishing played an important role in the development of communities along the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron shoreline.

In 1857, the colonial government passed the Fishing Act, which "shifted the commercial fishery from a public right to one vested in the crown."

In 1859, William Gibbard (who, 14 years earlier, supervised the initial settlement of Meaford) was named to oversee the industry on Lake Huron, Georgian Bay and Lake Superior.

How Indigenous Rights Were Ignored

Gibbard, not unlike other government officials of that era, ignored the native community's demands to continue their traditional ways.

He issued licenses without their consent, believing that they were better off "attending to their farms instead of dabbling in the fisheries."

His actions almost precipitated violence in the region.

What Caused Great Lakes Fishing To Boom?

In the 1860s the area's commercial fishing industry was booming.

The American civil war had created a huge demand for fish.

In response to this demand 800 to 1200 barrels of fish were being shipped by rail from Collingwood in the mid-1860s.

The growth of the Canadian and American markets meant an increased demand for fresh and salted fish had a huge impact on the Georgian Bay fishing industry.

Whitefish was the species most in demand in the Canadian market.

Ninety-two percent of the fish taken from Georgian Bay were either Whitefish or Lake Trout.

The Bounty of Great Lakes Fishing

In 1883 fishermen harvested 1 million pounds of Whitefish and by 1891, due to increased market demand, that total had reached 1.8 million pounds, which was 25% of the entire whitefish catch in Ontario. In 1891 southern Georgian Bay fishing interests caught a total 4.6 million pounds of fish.

The north channel fisheries reaped a harvest, which totaled almost 3.6 million pounds that year.

While Lake Trout and Whitefish made up a large part of these amounts, Pickerel and Sturgeon, which were shipped almost exclusively to the United States, also proved to be an important product for fishermen.

Why Were Steam Tugs Introduced to Georgian Bay?

To facilitate the demands of the markets the commercial fishing industry in the area experienced immense growth and change during the 1880s and 90s. Steam tugs had been introduced into the industry in the 1870s to meet the demands of the growing market.

By 1884 there were seven of these vessels in operation on Georgian Bay.

But, by 1893 that number had more than doubled to 18.

In 1883 there were 107 fishing boats in the area, excluding tugs, and more than 200 men involved in an industry that was worth more than $70,000 annually.

The most significant statistic that reflects the phenomenal growth in the fishery relates to the use of gill nets.

In 1889, 22,000 fathoms of gill netting were in use. Four years later in 1893 that number had soared to 675,000 fathoms!

Georgian Bay commercial fishing continued to boom well into the twentieth century.

During the last half of the 1900s its impact became less significant.

However, it is probably safe to suggest that the commercial fishing industry was an important part of the early growth of that region.

Much of the information used in this article came from The Maritime History of Georgian Bay by Larry Turner and Paul White.

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