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Whitefish Important in Early Times

Native Americans and early European explorers recognized the value of Great Lakes Whitefish. Following are excerpts from the book “The Indians of the Western Great Lakes 1615-1760” by Vernon Kinietz (University of Michigan Press, 1940).

Explorer Gabriel Sagard in his Le Grand Voyage witnessed ceremonies and practices that Native Americans carry on when they catch the great fish called Assihendo (Great Lakes whitefish), which is a fish as big as the largest cod, but much better.

The fishing of the Ottawa at Mackinac was described by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac about 1695, who wrote: “Moreover, better fish can not be eaten, and they are bathed and nourished in the purest water, the clearest and the most pellucid you could see anywhere.” He further described lake whitefish: “That is the most delicate fish of the lake. They are as large as shad in France.”

The taking of the Great Lakes whitefish by the Chippewa was described by Claude Dablon: “It is called in the native language Atticameg, and in ours ‘whitefish’, because in truth it is very white; and it is most excellent, so that it furnishes food, almost by itself, to the greater part of all these peoples.”

Claude de La Potherie wrote of Chippewa catching lake whitefish: “Those people are very skilful in a fishery they carry on there, of fish which are white, and as large as salmon.” He further states about lake whitefish: “This kind of fish is large, has firm flesh, and is very nourishing.” The Chippewa caught more whitefish than they could eat and carried the surplus to Mackinac, where they sold it at a high price to both French and Indians.

French explorer Antoine Denis Raudot wrote in 1710: “The fish that they fish for there are the trout, the sturgeon, and the whitefish. This last, which is the size of a shad and has no other bones but one in the middle, must be the best fish in the world, since all those who have eaten it say that they never grow tired of it and prefer it to all other meats that one could find.”