|The Presque Isle Lighthouse |
fishermen after being built in 1873
Fish, fish, fish. That is what the people of Erie, Pennsylvania, did daily. They also ate lots of fish. The city of Erie is located next to Lake Erie in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania and in the 1900s once had the distinction of being the largest freshwater fishing port in the world.
In the 1700s, residents of the town of Erie bought fish from the first commercial fishermen, the Seneca Indians. Later, many townspeople also fished for profit. The Industrial Revolution brought new inhabitants to the area, immigrants from faraway places. Many of them, accustomed to a diet of fish, purchased the fare from Erie fishermen at the markets. The building of the area’s railroad system extended the market grounds even farther. The Lake Erie catch could then be easily shipped to customers in eastern United States cities, including New York City.
From Canoes to Small Sailboats
The Seneca, of course, used canoes for fishing, but later small sailboats became the vehicles for fishermen to roam Lake Erie in search of good fishing places. In 1856, the area had three sailboats, and by 1884, a fleet of fifty sailboats traversed the waters.
The first steamboat to run on Lake Erie, Walk-in-the-Water, built in 1818, made regular trips along the southern side of the lake to convey passengers. The use of steam to power fishing boats began later, in 1881, with big, wooden steam tugs of up to 65 feet in length. Fishing tugs are not the same as the tug boats that pull other boats. Most fish tugs are longer without the high wheel house that a pulling tug boat has.
Four years later, the area had four tugs, each valued at $40,000. By 1892, the sailboat population had diminished to fourteen, but the steam tugs had increased to 28 and employed 500 men in the fishing trade. At first the tugs had open decks, but gradually they changed to closed decks to allow the fishermen some relief from the wind and rain. One hundred fish tugs roamed the lake by 1920. In the 1950s, new fish tugs had steel hulls instead of wooden.
(To Be Continued)
Applegate, Vernon C. and Harry D. Van Meter. “A Brief History of Commercial Fishing in Lake Erie.” Fishery Leaflet 630, April 1970 Washington, D.C.: UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Web 24 April 2017 <https://pubs.usgs.gov/unnumbered/81373/report.pdf>
Arway, John A. “Lake Erie Commercial Fishing – 2016.” Fishandboat.com. Web 6 May 2017 <http://www.fishandboat.com/Regulations/Documents/noticesDocs/2016_04_05tac16.pdf>
“The River as an Employer.” Delaware Riverkeeper Network. Web 16 May 2017 <http://www.delawareriverkeeper.org/sites/default/files/Environment_&_Economy.pdf>
Watkins, Charles A. “A Good Day’s Catch: Commercial Fishing in Erie.” Pennsylvania Heritage, Vol. IX, No. 2, pages 12-17. Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Spring 1983. Print.