PRESS EDITORIAL: Imagine a Community Fish Day

“We wanted to give the community something to enjoy.”

Dave Mueller, a Port Lions Club member, said that about Port Washington’s unofficial Fish Day, and, boy, did he and the volunteers from the other service clubs that helped put on the event deliver!

The Community Summer Fish-tival on July 16 and 17 was a delightful event. Hundreds of Port area residents —a big turnout but not one that overwhelmed Veterans Park—came to enjoy food and drink along with music performed in the lakeshore park’s distinctive bandshell.

The photo array in last week’s Ozaukee Press told the story: The folks who attended this small-town celebration of summer loved it.

This public party in the park was held because a many-times-larger event, Port Fish Day, was cancelled due to Covid-19 worries. The cancellation was a somewhat controversial decision, sparking complaints that it was an overreaction at a time when the pandemic appeared to be abating.

The success of the replacement event, however, does not justify any “I-told-you-sos” enabled by 20-20 hindsight. The Fish Day Committee did the right thing in canceling both the 2019 and 2020 Fish Days. At the time it decided not to hold this year’s Fish Day, Covid restrictions were still in place and the success of the vaccination campaign was still uncertain. The risks were magnified by the fact that, unlike the stand-in event, Fish Day attracts many thousands of people from around southeast Wisconsin.

The warm response by the people of Port Washington to the Fish-tival nonetheless suggests that some rethinking about Fish Day is in order.

Fish Day has grown in the 56 years since it was founded as a modest community festival celebrating Port Washington’s fishing heritage, so much so that in its recent iterations it has turned the scenic lakefront into a rock music venue with performers of regional or even national notoriety bringing in enormous crowds.

In one important way, this has been good for Port Washington. Those crowds buy a lot of fish and chips and beer (especially the latter) sold by service clubs that use the profits to help the community. It is perfectly accurate to say that

Fish Day and its hard-working volunteers, hundreds of Port residents ranging from the committee organizers to the service club members who fry truckloads of fish and serve barrels of lager, have made the city a better place to live with the services, scholarships and projects they fund with proceeds from the day.

Still, this would be a good time to ask whether Fish Day as it is currently constituted has grown too big and too out of character with the picturesque small town on the lake that is the real Port Washington.

What if Fish Day were remodeled to resemble the Fish-tival? It would still be a much bigger than that event, of course, but imagine it as a festival staged to make use of the abundant space of Port Washington’s four beautiful lakeshore parks instead of fencing off and overcrowding the marina district that so many residents visit, spend time in and stroll through on summer days.

Service clubs would still be the heart of the event with their food and drink tents and could still raise ample funds for their worthy causes. What’s more, a scaled-back Fish Day would have lower expenses for police and public works services. These are substantial overhead costs that are charged to the service clubs. Their bottom line might actually improve with an event that puts smaller demands on local government services.

 Live music would be a big part of the slimmed down Fish Day, but with groups chosen for their appealing play lists rather than the size of their fan bases and potential for bringing big audiences to town.

Some features of Fish Day, of course, must never change. One is the Fish Day parade, an institution famous for its great length and eclectic, anything goes makeup.

The other never-to-be changed element is fish. Sell some brats and burgers if you have to, but never fail to deliver the essential ingredient  of Fish Day—fish and chips.

Imagine Fish Day as a summer celebration designed for the people of Port Washington and the surrounding area that would generate the good vibes that came from that substitute event called the Fish-tival.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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