At the tip of Michigan’s Garden Peninsula lies tiny Fairport which, as the name suggests, has docks for boats such as the Martha Jean, the Peterson brothers’ 45 foot trap net fishing vessel.
Although they got experience in other occupations as young men, Joel and Ben are now the fifth generation of their family to fish these waters. They can’t think of anything they’d rather do.
“We enjoy the independence, being on the water, being your own boss. There’s no such word as ‘you can’t.’ Providing wholesome food for others brings a great sense of fulfillment,” Joel says. “If you haven’t grown up in a fishing family, you might not understand.”
In 1976 the brothers and their father Hector formed the Three Ps Fishing Company and worked together until their father retired in 1982. They worked as many as 18-20 gillnets in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, fishing for a variety of species. In 1973-74, they converted to trap net boats and eventually built the Martha Jean from aluminum. It’s more fuel efficient, and they’re especially pleased that they’ve never had to paint it. Now lake whitefish are the vast majority of their catch.
“Once you get it in your blood, you might need a transfusion to get it out,” chuckles younger brother Ben, recalling the phrase from a sage older fisherman.
“It’s definitely in ours,” says Joel. He thinks it was so good to grow up in a fishing family that he wants his children to experience the same, and they are. “I think they’re hooked,” says their proud father.
They also feel very related to other fishing families, figuratively and sometimes literally, as some have intermarried. They know each other, experience the same challenges and enjoy the same successes.
The Peterson brothers realize that the industry needs to be better known and respected for bringing a quality product to market. “We need to make more people aware of who we are and what we do. I’d invite anyone who’s interested to contact us, and we’ll show them around our operation,” concludes Joel.