Three Faces of the Fishery: Bob, Kenny and Theron King.
The Michigan commercial fishing industry has several dimensions—fishing/catching, processing, wholesaling and retailing among them. Members of the King family of Naubinway are involved in each one.
Sixty-seven year old Bob remembers hearing about his great-grandfather fishing the waters of northern Lake Michigan with gill nets. As a lad, when he got home from school, he would make fish boxes. But he got so sick when he was out on the boat that he didn’t want any part of that.
There are lots of other jobs in the fishery, though, so Bob has made his living as a wholesaler, processing and shipping as much as nearly 60,000 pounds in just a couple days, 75 percent of it to New York. He also supplies local restaurants. King considers staying in business his biggest success, what with all the rules and regulations he must follow, as well as the unpredictability of supply and demand. He thinks it would help if the fishing folks themselves had more say in their future.
“I wish more young people were able to get into the industry, too, but I think it’s important for them to work their way into it,” like his whole family has done.
His son Kenny did take to boats, having one kind or another since he was a boy. The older generation taught him about setting nets and how the fishery cycles, though he’s learned some by chance in his own experience. “I keep a log of what works and when,” he says.
It’s not just about the fishing, according to Kenny. “There’s no more peaceful place than being out on the lake when it’s calm.” But no two days are alike, and that makes life interesting. So does the scourge of invasive species, which have left many a net coated with slimy, green cladophora. Kenny’s also challenged to find good workers, who must belong to an Indian tribe.
Kenny thinks it would help if the industry focused its marketing on people in the Midwest who like fish. His brother Theron is counting on such folks. He’s opened a fish market in tiny Moran on M-123 in the eastern Upper Peninsula. There he offers fresh fillets and smoked fish, spreads and a very hearty fish chowder, made with the Great Lakes fish that has sustained his family through six generations.