Maritime Museum Lecture Series Wraps With Commercial Fishing Lecture

When photographer and curator Naomi Shersty attended the funeral of
Tom Kutchera, former owner of Empire Fish Company and amateur photographer, she
discovered two albums of portraits by Tom, taken between the 1960s and 1980s, that captured
Empire Fish’s workers who supplied fish to Wisconsin’s many fish fries and restaurants. That
discovery led her to turn these portraits of a “work family” into a photo exhibit. And now, Tom’s
sons, Joe and Andrew, have turned the exhibit, photos, and a manuscript that Tom left behind
into a book – Faces of a Fish Empire – that tell the story behind their father’s portraits as well as
capturing the disappearance of Lake Michigan’s many family-owned fish companies.

Commercial fishing was a booming industry around the Great Lakes for over a century and
played a major role in local economies. Most of these industries were family run and were a
sense of identity and pride. Join the Michigan Maritime Museum and presenter and author Joe
Kutchera on April 17 th at 6:30 pm for the final lecture of their Working Waterfront Lecture Series.
Kutchera will present Faces of a Fish Empire, a tale about the Empire Fish Company on Lake
Michigan and the rise and fall of the industry through the eyes of his family business.

Joe Kutchera grew up working as a fourth-generation fishmonger at Empire Fish Company,
which was founded by his great grandfather. Over the years, he listened to his grandfather’s and
father’s stories about growing up in the family fish business and the fishmonger community in
Wisconsin. When his father passed away, he wrote a book reflecting on the company’s 100-plus-
year history and the demise of Lake Michigan’s many family-owned fish companies and
fishermen, nearly all of which have disappeared.

“The story of the Empire Fish Company is one that resonates with many people across the Great
Lakes who were involved with the industry,” said Ashley Deming, Director of Education and
Programs. “We don’t see much commercial fishing on the lakes anymore and stories like this
help to keep that important cultural heritage alive. We are proud to be able to share a piece of
that history at the Michigan Maritime Museum.”

This lecture series is made possible thanks to the Nielsen-Wells Grant Fund and Mike and Susan
Smith. Tickets are free for museum members and $10 for non-members. For more information
about the Museum’s events, please visit:

Event Details
Lecture Series- Faces of a Fish Empire
Date: Wednesday, April 17, 2024
Time: 6:30 – 7:30 pm
Location: 260 Dyckman Avenue, South Haven, MI 49090
Cost: Free to members/$10 non-members