Producer Profile: Sve Commercial Fishing

There are few things that say “North Shore” more than fresh Lake Superior fish!  For three generations the Sve family has been reeling in the nets to bring that great bounty to individuals and restaurants along the shore.

Watler Sve – age 86 Photo by Ken Vogel

Eric Sve, third generation fisherman, recounts how his grandfather, Ragnvald Sve, immigrated from Norway in the early 1920’s.  Beginning in 1926, Rangveld learned fishing from his father-in-law.  The following year he and his wife purchased the property where the family business, Split Rock Cabins, still exist today.  Ragnvald passed his knowledge on to son, Walter, who was fishing from the time he was “big enough to handle the ores”, (about age 8)!  Walter was still fishing on the open water till the age of 90.  Likewise, Eric and brother Steve started fishing as soon as they were big enough to row a boat, though these days they use an outboard motor!

To become a commercial fisherman today, you must apprentice with a master fisherman for three years before you can apply for a master’s license; and those are few and far between.  There are only 25 licenses available along the whole of Minnesota’s North Shore and many, like the Sves, are kept within the family!  

Fishing is a seasonal industry.  Trout season starts in May, followed by Herring season in later June or early July, but as the water warms the fish head deeper and become more elusive.  “The best time for fishing is in November and December”, says Eric.  “That’s when the herring come in to spawn.”  In addition to the seasonality, another challenge is differing regulations.  With other states taking more quota, Sve has seen a decline in the catch over the past 3 years.   

Though he grew up fishing, Eric began his commercial fishing career after returning from the Air Force in 1994.  A typical day begins by heading out on the big lake before dawn.  “I love to be alone on the water because it is so peaceful.  I really miss it on the days I can’t get out there.”  He also quipped that it’s the only place he can sing, “cuz the fish don’t care!” 

It takes about 1/2 hour to pick a net of fish, and they set 2 or 3 nets a day, trying to  catch about the same amount of fish each day.  Then another hour goes into cleaning the fish.  A typical year brings in around 4-5,000 lbs and on a great year it can be as much as 15,000 lbs.  Much of what they catch is sold to local restaurants, but Eric and his brother Steve, also a commercial fisherman, welcome individual orders. 

Contact Eric at 218-226-4735 or Steve at 218-409-2572 
Check out other local producers in our Directory of Local Food Producers

Listen to a WITP “Moments in Time” radio interview of Walter Sve HERE

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