DAVE ALEXANDER The Muskegon Chronicle
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — MUSKEGON (AP) — For a fourth generation Lake Michigan commercial fisherman trying to establish a fresh-fish retail and wholesale business in Muskegon, the 18-hour days are brutal.
During fishing season, Eric Petersen might start the day by getting up at 3:30 a.m. to head off to the Petersen Fisheries boats on Muskegon Lake. He will fish with uncles Alan and Chris and cousin Joel. His father, Bill is still part of the family business but not out on the water as much, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.
The Petersens will commercially fish for Lake Michigan whitefish with live trap nets off the coast of Muskegon from Mount Garfield Road to the south to Duck Lake to the north. They will cast the huge nets out up to five miles but usually fish in 50-60 feet of water, Eric said. The company will put out a dozen nets it must tend, bringing in thousands of pounds of fish each day.
The Petersens will go out four or five days a week, weather-depending from early spring through late fall. The Muskegon commercial fleet is unable to enter Lake Michigan when Muskegon Lake is frozen over during the winter months.
On fishing days, Eric will return to the dock about noon and begin to clean the day’s catch for delivery to Chicago and other brokers.
By mid-afternoon, he’ll take the portion of the catch he purchases from the family business for the Fish Monger’s Wife, a farmers market-turned-retail outlet in Norton Shores. He will process for the Fish Monger’s Wife until early evening. Eric goes home and early the next morning does it all over again.
“This is what I am going to do,” he says quietly about the fishing business he learned from going out on Lake Michigan with his father and uncles since he was 8 years old. After graduating from Muskegon High School in 1994, it was off to the family commercial fishing boat.
The Petersens are one of two legacy commercial fishing families in Muskegon, both working out of Bluffton Bay on Muskegon Lake. The Paul and David Jensen fishing operation also works out of Muskegon.
The Jensens and Petersens are licensed for certain areas of the lake through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. There are 52 commercial licenses in Michigan remaining on the Great Lakes being used by 31 operators. The DNR is no longer issuing licenses.
The Petersen’s annual quota is 300,000 pounds of whitefish a year.
For more than 85 years, the Petersens have been fishing Lake Michigan ever since Ben Petersen started in Muskegon in 1926, coming from a farm in Fountain in Mason County. The Norwegians have been here ever since.
Kenneth “Gootz” Petersen took up the family business as did his sons Bill, Alan and Chris. Someday, the fourth generation of Petersens will be running the family business.
Eric Petersen was just selected president of the Michigan Fish Producers Association to a two-year term. The state’s fishing trade association works closely with the Michigan State University’s and the University of Michigan’s SeaGrant program through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“This is what I do,” Eric Petersen said of fishing and his family’s growing processing, whole sale and retail fish business.