International Governance of Fisheries Ecosystems: Learning from the Past, Finding Solutions for the Future

Chapter 4: Management of Commercial Fisheries for Lake Whitefish in the Laurentian Great Lakes of North America

Mark P. Ebener, Ronald E. Kinnunen, PhilipJ. Schneeberger, Lloyd C. Mohr, JamesA. Hoyle, and Paul Peeter

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569995.ch4

Lake whitefish Coregonus clupeaformis were an important food source to aboriginal people of North America well before arrival of European settlers (Kinietz 1965; Cleland 1982). Archaeological records indicate that they began to exploit lake whitefish populations of the Great Lakes somewhere during 3,000–1,000 B.C. (Cleland 1982; Spangler and Peters 1995). By 800 A.D. lake whitefish were a primary staple of aboriginal people in the upper Great Lakes and many of their villages were located adjacent to lake whitefish spawning grounds (Kinietz 1965; Cleland 1982). By the time European explorers entered the upper Great Lakes region in the early 1600s, aboriginal people had developed highly organized gill-net fisheries that targeted lake whitefish and other species in nearshore waters (Kinietz 1965; Cleland 1982; Goodier 1989). By the late 1700s aboriginal people were selling and trading lake whitefish to European settlers in the three upper Great Lakes (Cleland 1982; Spangler and Peters 1995).

European explorers and Catholic Jesuits exploring the upper Great Lakes region praised the abundance and fine flavor of lake whitefish. A Jesuit priest wrote that “where the Outaouaks and Huron live, there are caught at all times of the year great numbers of whitefish” and another explorer wrote that lake whitefish was the best of all the Great Lakes fish “weighing from four to sixteen pounds, and is of a superior quality in these waters” (Kinietz 1965; Goodier 1989). Other early explorers labeled lake whitefish as the “best fish in the world” saying that “one could eat it for days and never grow tired of it” (Kinietz 1965). When European settlers to North America discovered the delicate flavor and white flesh of lake whitefish they began extensive fisheries for the species.