© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Washington Island’s last remaining commercial fisherman

Fisherman sitting on his boat.
Matt Ludtke
Ken Koyen

Washington Island in Door County was once a hub for commercial fishing. But over the past century the industry has slowly dwindled from dozens of fishermen to just one: Ken Koyen, Washington Island’s last remaining commercial fisherman.

Koyen has been in the business for more than 50 years. Now in his 70s, he continues to go out onto the water, though it isn’t his only source of income. Koyen owns a local restaurant, KK Fiske, which he supplies with fresh whitefish and lawyer fish. But as he gets older, he’s unsure if anyone will replace him. His story was featured in this month’s Milwaukee Magazine and he shares more about his experience.

"It's kind of a lonesome out there right now. I don't ever have nets up, or I don't have anybody to talk about what they got and where they got it. So, I, it's kind of on my own. I keep records as far as what and where or more or less going from year to year. The fish always seem to follow a pattern, good times and bad," Koyen says.

While there's not as many fisherman on the lake, he says the fishing is as good as it has ever been, commercially.

The main challenges on the water, Koyen says is that with sports fishermen using hook and line to catch whitefish as well as the impact of invasive species and disease on fish.

As far as the keeping the tradition of commercial fishing off Washington Island alive once Koyen decides to stops, he says, "There's always going to be a need for fish especially in Door County. Specially with all fish boils and people are going to need food now more than ever, relatively cheap priced when compared to beef. And I think you know, somebody comes along and wants to learn to trade at my age, I definitely would train them."

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
Related Content