Joe Cocker’s song “Feelin’ Alright” filled the air inside the work area of Susie Q Fish Market in Two Rivers, blaring over the hiss of water from a hose that cleaned the floors.
Within minutes, the metallic clatter of a cart chimed in, as workers pushed a rack of smoked bluefin herring, their bronzed scales glinting in the overhead light.
By the time the first customers arrive when the market opens at 8 a.m., the Susie Q’s trap-net boat, Jamie Ann, and her crew has already been out on Lake Michigan and back again, bringing in the day’s haul of whitefish, kept fresh on ice.
That’s far from the start of things at the market, where workers are busy prepping fish for smoking; they’ve put other fish in brine to soak for 12 to 18 hours, which develops their flavor and helps to preserve them.
“By that time, our whitefish boat comes in and we help them dress the whitefish,” vice president Paul LeClair said.
The iced boxes are emptied onto metal tables, where fish are gutted, cut and sorted. Once the fish are dressed, they’re individually weighed and distributed accordingly. Depending on size and need, they’re filleted, smoked or sold to fish markets ranging from local to those farther away — it’s not uncommon for Susie Q to sell to markets in Chicago and the west and east coasts.
“In the fishing industry, everyone works together,” LeClair said, leaning against a work table and crossing one tall rubber boot over the other. “Everyone knows everyone. I talk with four or five of the big ones, and they know what’s going on out here. Plus, we deal with all the (markets) in Wisconsin.”