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Wisconsin

Fishing the Waters of Green Bay

The warm, shallow waters of Green Bay, on the west shore of Lake Michigan, provide important habitat for fish and other aquatic life. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the bay’s waters provided large numbers of fishermen with a livelihood. Over the years, Green Bay has been plagued with invasive species, chemical pollutants and other issues, and its health has declined. The Nature Conservancy is working with public and private partners to restore the bay for people and the wildlife that depend on it.

Although commercial fishing is not the thriving industry it once was, fishermen like Mark Maricque still ply the waters of the bay in search of yellow perch and other fishy fare. Nature.org recently spoke with Mark about the state of his industry and why he continues to fish despite the many challenges.

“I like history, and fishing is an important part of Wisconsin’s history. I hope we can find a way to keep it going.”

Mark Maricque, commercial fisherman

Nature.org:

How long has your family been fishing the waters of Green Bay?

Mark Maricque:

I don’t know the year we got started, but I’m the fifth generation of my family to fish Green Bay. I learned to fish from my dad, who learned to fish from his uncles and on back through the family. My son Nick, who is a teacher, fishes with me in the summer, but he doesn’t make his livelihood from it like I do.

Nature.org:

When do you fish and what are you catching?

Mark Maricque:

I fish from about mid-May to mid-November when the bay starts to ice up. Ninety-five percent of what I catch is yellow perch. I sell quite a bit of it to my cousin Jamie, who runs Maricque’s Bar in Green Bay, for his traditional Wisconsin fish fries.

Nature.org:

How has commercial fishing in Green Bay changed since you first got started?

Mark Maricque:

It’s a lot poorer now than it was 20 years ago. In 1983, there were about 101 fishermen with yellow perch quotas*; today there are somewhere between 22 and 25. People are quitting the business because they can’t make a living at it. And while perch numbers have gone up and down over the last 20 years, today we’re only harvesting about a fifth of what we could in the 1980s.

Nature.org:

Any idea why perch numbers are down now?

Mark Maricque:

We see lots of young perch but they’re not maturing into adults. We don’t know why that is. But everything has changed out in the bay. Nothing is the way it used to be. I think exotic species like zebra mussels, white perch, gobies, and spiny water fleas are a big part of the problem. They’ve changed the entire ecosystem. But there could be other factors too.

Nature.org:

Do you think having clean water and healthy habitat in the bay is important to your business?

Mark Maricque:

Yes, we need healthy habitat for perch and other species to survive. Green Bay shouldn’t be used as a cesspool. It’s a resource that belongs to all of us.

Nature.org:

So with all the challenges you face, why do you keep fishing?

Mark Maricque:

I have way too much invested in it to walk away now. And I still love it. Especially the sense of freedom when I’m out there on the water. I like history, and fishing is an important part of Wisconsin’s history. I hope we can find a way to keep it going.


*To ensure a sustainable fish harvest, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources determines the total number of pounds of each fish species that can be harvested in a given year. A fisherman’s quota is the percentage of that total that he is allowed to harvest.

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