HARRIGAN COVE – Back in the day when Garnet Snow fished for a living to provide for his wife and five children, he fished alone. He paid 25 cents for a seasonal lobster license to a Nova Scotia fisheries officer at the time. Snow started fishing full time in a 25-foot boat called Olive Oil, with his father Earl Snow, when he left school in Grade 8 at age 14.
Snow was born in 1929 on Snow’s Island – on the Eastern Shore about halfway between Ecum Secum and Sheet Harbour – and now, at 92, he looks back at the local fishery of the 1950s and the next several decades.
“Once you had your license you could fish lobster, codfish, herring, mackerel and a separate license for netting salmon,” Snow told The Journal during an interview at his home. Eventually, in 1952, he had his own boat, the Miss Harrigan. “I fished alone – with a watch and a compass.”
In the summers, Snow caught herring and mackerel, which he salted and stored in barrels to be bait for the next year’s season. “I eventually transferred my license to my son and today, in 2021, he can buy his lobster bait – caught fresh and frozen – from a bait supplier who will deliver it, and so it’s not all that work I had to do.”
Snow’s area for fishing lobsters was “… in a section just off Harrigan and to Quoddy and Moosehead. There wasn’t a designated area but most people just stayed in their own place. We didn’t have a quota … I just brought home anything available – whatever was in the net.” In the early days Snow said they’d fish about six miles out and he never was afraid of the sea. “Fog never made any difference to me,” he said.
Lobster prices varied and increased over the ensuing years. Snow recalls the lowest market price he got per pound was 30 cents and 15 cents for canners. As he recalls, around the time he retired in 1996 the highest he had been paid was $4 a pound.
Snow says he made a comfortable living until 1962 and “… lobster went down to nothing. The quantity of lobsters had started to decline and, as a result, I had only made $700 by late May, so I quit the season June 1.” He took a seasonal job with the power corporation.
His wife, Bonita, whom he married in 1954, went back to work for a time as a schoolteacher and, in 1966, they built a mink farm, which they ran together for the next 49 years. Snow didn’t give up fishing and Bonita helped care for the mink. “It was darn hard work,” said Snow, “but we grew it to 6,000 mink and, at one point, the feed had to be mixed with a paddle. We graduated to a mixer and a power grinder, and then we had a feed cart we could drive.”
In time, the mink market became unsustainable as it became saturated due to over production worldwide.
In early 1980, Snow set 18 traps to get his family a good feed of lobster.
“I didn’t catch enough to eat,” he recalled. Lobster stocks started picking up again in the 1990s. “The catch for a year is eggs laid maybe seven or eight years ago,” he explained. “That’s why lobster seasons are hard to predict. Maybe eight years ago was a poor spawning year.”
The most significant change for lobster fishers of today, Snow believes, is the distance they can go offshore to trap. Codfish eat lobster and, with the cod fishery now decimated, the lobster stock is replenishing. Boats and equipment of today can safely take the fishers a greater distance out to where the lobsters are.
While he navigated with his watch and a compass, Snow smiles and said of today’s methods: “Nowadays with all the equipment they have – they can’t get out the harbour without a compass, GPS and a cell phone!”
A concern for Snow is that the unrestricted size of the funnel bow of today’s lobster traps allows too many large breeders to be caught. “They need a five-inch gauge to measure the body of the lobster. Anything larger than that has to be put back or we’re going to run into trouble.”
Today, the pandemic has slowed Snow up, he said, by keeping him in his rocking chair. “I didn’t go too many places.” Bonita added: “We saved money because we couldn’t go anywhere. Normally we go somewhere and eat, pay for gas and do a little shopping.”
“This COVID pandemic is the biggest public health crisis in our lives,” Snow reflected. “Years ago, there was diphtheria, measles, polio … and Dr. MacMillan would scramble to get everybody vaccinated. He’d come down to Moser River to vaccinate the people.”
During his school days, the school that housed 43 students was closed during outbreaks and would stay closed, sometimes for a few months, until the sickness had passed. “One year we went a whole year without a teacher – but that was during the war. I was paid $14 a school year to make the fire on every morning and sweep the floor before the kids came.”
His first job, at age 11, was collecting monthly for The Halifax Herald, where subscribers paid 50 cents a month and 40 cents a month for The Halifax Mail. “Six months cost about $2.40 … compared to $226 now. I made eight cents off each monthly subscription I collected.”
Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal