Part of the problem was, and is, the pollution of the Great Lakes and surrounding waters. But another force that Joe feels is responsible for the depletion of fish species indigenous to the area is the stocking of exotic species by private angling organizations. Spike herring were a big commercial industry - until the coming of the smelt. The introduction of the smelt was
the factor largely responsible for killing the herring industry in the area. Biologists determined that smelt living in their natural oceanic environment preyed upon herring eggs. In fact, the herring eggs were the smelt's main diet. It's no wonder the herring population in the Great Lakes was wiped out by this voracious fish.
Brown trout, skalmania trout, coho salmon, chinook, Atlantic salmon, pink salmon, smelt, alewives, splake - all of these salmonoids are foreign to the Great Lakes. And they seem to be a lot more trouble than they are worth. "This stocking is changing the natural ecology of the lake," Joe Green states.
One fish species suffering greatly from the flourishing of the salmonoids is the perch. The perch was already in trouble because vital links in its food chain were being killed off by the ever-increasing stream and lakeshore pollution. Joe recalls when minnow, a major source of food for perch, used to be so thick that they would turn streams black with their colour. Today (1989), the minnows are few and far between. Perch also feed on night-crawler-like worms, about four or five inches long. "I haven't seen one of those for fifteen years," Joe says. And a last link of the perch food chain which has all but disappeared is the crab. "We hardly see a crab anymore. At one time they used to be so thick that they'd come up in the nets," Joe remembers.
The lake trout has been wiped out, and this can be directly attributed to the large number of lamprey eels which slipped through the Welland Canal and into Lake Huron. But Joe Green does commend the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) for trying to overcome that problem with the introduction of the hybrid splake (a cross between lake trout and speckled trout). But there is one major problem with the splake: it won't reproduce itself.
The problems surrounding the commercial fishing industry have certainly increased since the years when Joe's great grandfather first began to fish this area. And, unfortunately, the number of fish inhabiting the Great Lakes is on a rapid decline. In June of 1987 the two factors combined and forced Joe Green to make a very painful decision. The commercial fishing business, begun so many years ago by his great grandfather, had to fold.
While he had entertained the notion that one day his son might be able to keep the family tradition going for a fifth generation, Joe now realizes that that is "an impossibility." As many other commercial fishermen working out of Grand Bend have found, small commercial fishing operations are simply no longer viable. Joe has sold his boat and all his fishing equipment to a larger Sarnia operator.
But why did Joe Green get into this trouble-ridden business in the first place when he already knew of the pitfalls that awaited him? Sitting back in his white deck chair, Joe looks pensive.
"You're always waiting for that big catch. It's hard to describe why. There's such a challenge to it. Every day is the same, but every day is different."