The first Spanish fishermen sailed their smacks into Charlotte Harbor some time in the 17th century marking the beginnings of a commercial fishing industry, They caught and carried edible fish, which had been salted and dried, back to Cuba to earn a large profit. By 1763 when the British acquired Florida the Spanish had built “ranchos” or fishing camps that extended from Charlotte Harbor to the Caloosahatchee River.
The Cuban fishermen controlled the business for over 200 years through the British and then through Spain’s second possession of Florida. Once the United States gained ownership of the peninsula in 1821, competition began between the Cubans and new American-based businesses. But when the railroad arrived at Trabue (Punta Gorda) in 1886 and an ice factory was built the industry was changed forever.
By the 1890s Punta Gorda had one of the largest commercial fishing industries in Florida. The original businesses operated from the 4200-foot “Long Dock.” In 1897, the industry was relocated to the Railroad at the foot of King Street (now U.S. 41 North) and remained there until it was moved to the Maud Street Dock in 1928.
The fish businesses constructed fish storage houses throughout Charlotte Harbor. These shacks, built on stilts over the water, served as ice houses as well as bunkhouses for the fishermen sometimes with their families. They were serviced by “run boats” like “The Chase” operated by the Punta Gorda fish dealers to carry fish and ice back and forth from the shacks to the dock where the catch was transported to the railroad. At its height, the industry caught and processed thousands of tons of fish annually
Gradually as the commercial fishing industry spread throughout Florida, Punta Gorda’s role in it declined. The last of the Punta Gorda fishing businesses - the Punta Gorda Fish Company - ceased operation in 1977 when the City revoked its lease on the municipal dock at Maud Street to make way for the development of Fishermen’s Village.