On good November mornings, Steve Dahl can pull 400 to 800 pounds of Lake Superior herring from his nets. But this was not a good morning.
Guiding his 18-foot herring skiff into the Knife River harbor, 15 miles up the shore from Duluth, Dahl figured he'd caught only about 20 pounds of the foot-long, silvery fish.
The lake herring, called cisco, typically aggregate in thick schools in the late fall when they swim to shore to spawn. But overfishing in parts of Superior regulated by Wisconsin, and a decline in fish survival, have caused cisco numbers on the Minnesota side of the lake to plummet, putting the lake's small but iconic commercial fishery in jeopardy.
The evidence of that was clear in Dahl's daily catch, about one box. "That's all we got," he said. "Yep. You just never know."
Commercial fisherman on the North Shore of Lake Superior are busy wrapping up their busiest time of the year. But they know that if things don't turn around, if solutions aren't found, their livelihoods could come to an end.
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