|Bill Carlson (left) and his father, Pete, in Fishtown in 1973.
The Carlson name has been synonymous with fishing and Leland since the early 20th century. Thanks to a deal finalized late yesterday afternoon, a fifth-generation family member will continue to carry on the tradition.
Sources tell The Ticker that Bill Carlson, who has operated the historic fishery in Fishtown since the late 1960s, and his wife, Jennifer, have sold Fishtown's flagship – Carlson's fishery – to Bill’s nephew, Nels Carlson, and his business partner Joe Campo.
The new enterprise will continue to operate out of the iconic fishery shanty. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
“Fishtown has had continual commercial fishing activity since the second half of the 19th century… and the Carlsons have been an ongoing part of this history in Leland since 1905, when they built a shanty on the north side of the river,” says Amanda Holmes, executive director of the Fishtown Preservation Society (FPS), a nonprofit organization which took over ownership of the historic fishing village in 2006 to preserve its heritage.
Holmes says the sale sets an “optimistic tone” for the future. “We do not want to think about what it would mean if this sale had not gone through, except to say that those who have been involved in Fishtown over the years have had to adjust and adapt – and Fishtown has survived,” Holmes says.
Nels Carlson says he and Campo are “delighted” to be able to continue the family tradition in Fishtown and hope to expand the business. “We have a number of ideas that, when implemented, should allow a longer season and new products and services,” he adds.
Even though the Carlsons no longer go fishing, the family business both processes and markets the fish.
“Commercial fishing and commercial fishing’s infrastructure has largely disappeared from most Great Lakes communities, so to have the place and a family dedicated to the business is rare. The continuation of the family in the business means a lot to the Carlsons, as well, which makes our work all the more meaningful,” Holmes adds.
The FPS has a lease arrangement with Carlsons for five years, which is renewable for additional five-year terms, according to Holmes.
“We are very pleased that this venerable business will continue under Nels’ and Joe’s ownership and the historic structure preserved and used for its intended purpose,” says Holmes. “Having Carlson’s continue in this location is an important element in our mission.”
Photos courtesy of Bill Carlson and Keith Burnham.