The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has broken ground on a 3,500-square-foot commercial fish processing facility for Red Cliff Fish Co. that will process commercial fish and provide packaged products to distributors and local markets.
“This groundbreaking today for the Red Cliff Fish Co. is an historic milestone in furthering our community and food sovereignty goals,” Tribal Chairman Rick Peterson said in a news release. “The need to be able to feed our own community with our own resources has really been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our people have been fishing the waters of Lake Superior for many generations and this new facility will also allow our tribal fishermen to have a more direct role in selling their catch.”
Chad Abel, the director of Red Cliff Treaty Natural Resources, said with this new business the tribe can achieve local food control, maximize fisheries’ economic potential and preserve commercial fishing traditions.
The tribe has been planning the processing facility for nearly a decade and hopes to complete it in September for a Labor Day weekend opening.
Once operations begin, Red Cliff Fish Co. will buy catch from independent tribal commercial license holders, and the facility will process, package and sell different fish products to distributors, markets and restaurants. The facility also will have a 400-square-foot retail space to sell products such as fresh and frozen filets, smoked fish, fish spreads and caviar.
Fish waste will be composted for use at the Mino Bimaadiziiwin Tribal Farm.
The tribe has 33 commercial fish license holders who bring in more than 600,000 pounds per year, the news release said.
“Despite contributing 10.61% of all Great Lakes lake trout harvest, 17.26% of all Great Lakes herring harvest and 5.51% of all Great Lakes whitefish harvest, there is not a means to process the tribal catch on-reservation or through a tribal-owned business,” Abel said. “As a result, nearly all tribal catch is sold at wholesale prices to off-reservation processors.”
But once the fish processing facility starts up, it will provide more competitive prices, help create or maintain 105 jobs and allow the Red Cliff community to reap the economic benefits.
The construction and operation of the processing facility was made possible by a series of grants, including a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Native Americans.
Funding sources also included a $543,140 HUD Indian and Community Development Block Grant for dock expansion and improvements to Dock Road, and $595,000 for building construction and equipment.
The Red Cliff Band has invested more than $271,000 in the development and success of the Red Cliff Fish Co. as well.