Lake Superior has a very interesting and rich history. Hundreds of years ago, the Ojibwe and Chippewa Indians used to hunt lake trout, whitefish and sturgeon from Lake Superior. The tribal fishermen caught fish by going around the lake in birch bark canoes using nets crafted from the willow bark strands.
The people of the region used to catch fishes in order to feed themselves but when the European settlers started to visit Lake Superior, commercial fishing began in the year 1820 with big boats and huge nets to catch as may fish as possible in a single go. Some species of fish residing in Lake Superior started to decline in 1880’s and then again the business began to boom with the use of modern equipment to catch fish. The numbers of trout and some other species of Lake Superior like whitefish severely diminished and by the 1950’s, the golden era of commercial fishery was over. Pollution, over-fishing and the introduction of external invasive species were all the factors that spell the decline of the fisheries industry.
In order to recover the fisheries sector, the state placed strict rules and regulations to limit commercial fishing in Lake Superior. These rules and regulations were also applied on the tribal fishermen to limit their fishing too. In the year 1972, Richard Gurnoe, who was the former tribal chairman of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to challenge the law imposed on the tribal fishermen. Richard Gurnoe won the case for treaty tribes and thus in the year 1984, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission was formed to manage tribal commercial fishing. Eleven Ojibwe tribes in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin were the part of this agency to keep an eye on the gathering activities in the abandoned territories and to jointly manage the tribal commercial fishing.
The whitefish is the main target of the tribal fishermen. The tribal commercial fishing is done while following tribal codes and agreements with the Wisconsin state. The fishery industry is now monitored through annual assessments and the wardens from the commission are authorized to enforce the tribal codes on commercial tribal fishermen.