HOOK, LINE AND SINKER
The nets have been drawn in and the big fish tug docked for the last time, and the Greens, commercial fishermen in Grand Bend for four generations, have sadly watched an era come to a close.
Close to 100 years ago, Joe Green's great-grandfather set about building a strong commercial fishing business that could hold its own among the many other fisheries springing up along the Lake Huron shoreline and in the Grand Bend area.
In those days the waters surrounding the small hamlet of Grand Bend were teeming with fish of all kinds, especially herring and whitefish. Great grandfather Green's modest venture
enjoyed a fair degree of success, with the eight months between spring thaw and winter freeze-up spent rowing out the seine nets, setting the large looped meshes out along what is now the famous Grand Bend beach, and hauling in the crop.
Many of those who fished for a living only did so part-time to supplement their income. Cyrus Green, Joe's grandfather was one of those fishermen who fished and farmed at the same time. Imagine the amount of backbreaking work it would require to row out and set the seine nets along the beach, and then pull them in at night, stuffed and overflowing. The nets were so heavy with fish that Cyrus Green had to harness horses to the nets and use horsepower to haul them in. Then imagine returning home to take care of the farm on top of all of that.
The next improvement in the techniques of commercial fishermen was the pound net. Joe explains how the fishermen would drive huge stakes into the lake floor and set the pound nets around them. "The tough part of it was dragging the stakes. They were as big and heavy as telephone poles," he says. The men would use a scow to pull on ropes from the fish tug in order to lift a big cement weight into the air. Then they'd let go of the ropes and allow the weight to fall, driving the stake into the lake bed.
When all of the muscle-straining work was done, the pound nets, which were "funnel-shaped affairs" in the words of Joe Green, would work quite effectively. The fish would swim into the net and not be able to find their way out. All that was left for the hearty fishermen to do was to pull a boat up, bring the nets up close to the surface, and scoop in the payload.
As time wore on and the technology of commercial fishing advanced, the Canadian Department of Fisheries clamped down on the number of fishing licenses it issued. Most of the farmer-fishermen didn't have their licenses renewed. Henry, Joe's father and the third generation of Greens to fish The Bend, concentrated his efforts solely on the fishing end of things. He made an adequate enough living from the business to support his small family, but he watched as one species of fish after another succumbed to new and deadly forces which were being introduced into the waters of Lake Huron.