Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Relief station in 1935 providing rough fish © Eugene Sanborn

In February 1935, crews distribute rough fish at a relief station in Winnebago County. Although the economy was beginning to improve from the Great Depression, unemployment was still high and an estimated 125,000 Wisconsin residents required assistance through local relief agencies that winter. Many communities lacked the tax revenue to provide assistance and rough fish removed from Lake Winnebago provided a valuable source of protein to supplement scarce funds.
© Eugene Sanborn

August 2014

Back in the day

Rough fish helped in tough times.

Kathryn A. Kahler

Rough fish helped in tough times. Good intentions don't always produce desired results. Take, for example, a well–meaning program begun in 1881 by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries to plant carp imported from Germany in lakes, rivers and streams across the country as a food source for citizens. As early as 1895, the Wisconsin Conservation Commission recognized the detrimental effects of the invasive fish and called a halt to the distribution. The damage was done however, and Wisconsinís natural resource agencies have spent more than a century trying to remove them from our waters. Early on, the Commission and later, the Wisconsin Conservation Department and Department of Natural Resources, contracted commercial fishermen and employed state crews to remove rough fish from Wisconsin waters. From 1912 to 1935, more than 57 million pounds of rough fish were removed from state waters. Thereafter, up to 6 million pounds were removed each year. Chemical treatment of carp –infested water bodies was added to the arsenal in the 1940s and continues today. The Department of Natural Resources continues to issue contracts to commercial fishermen seining for carp or removing them from under the ice.

Our photo archives abound with images from the 1930s of crews hoisting nets full of carp, loading them onto train cars to eastern markets, distributing them to relief lines, canning them for animal food or spreading them on fields as fertilizer. Here is a sampling.

Kathryn A. Kahler is an editorial writer for Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.