Fishboat at sunset by Wisely via Flickr (CC BY SA; 2.0 License)

Catching English Fish & Chips

By Roy L Hales

Bernie Anderson and Leila Gmeiner had big expectations in the Spring of 1978. For the past two years, they had been homesteading in the wilderness of Toba Inlet, British Columbia. Then a friend offered them the use of his fishing boat. They had to make the monthly payments to the bank of course, but any profits beyond that were theirs to keep. Nobody could foresee they would be catching English Fish & Chips.

What Do We Do?

According to Lella, at the beginning of the season:

“We set our net out and a big school of dogfish hit the net – thrashing it to laced ribbons. We hadn’t yet made any money. So we had this net that was virtually destroyed. We came back to [our homeport of] Lund and said ‘What do we do?’

“Most of the fishermen said you just have to buy a new net. People just threw away their nets.”

“We said ‘No, we can fix this.’”

They found a retired fisherman. He gave Bernie and Lella the necessary tools and showed them how to use them.

“We set up saw horses on a grassy spot and stretched the net out – much in the way you set a piece of embriodery on an embroidery hoop to stretch it taut. Then we began to recreate the webbing with what was effectively a very large darning needle.”

They used the net for the rest of the season, catching a lot of salmon.

Catching English Fish & Chips

Finding a buyer for the dogfish was more difficult. The local fishermen claimed they were garbage fish that urinate through their skin. They advised Bernie and Lella to dump them into the ocean.

This seemed wasteful. In addition, Lella had been eating dogfish ever since she came to the coast “and never tasted a pissy dogfish.” She didn’t skin them before cooking either, “because i didn’t know they pissed through their skins.”

“Anyway we found a buyer for this huge catch of dogfish. We learned that dogfish are the prime desired fish in Britain for the fish and fish industry. This buyer was actually flying these fish to London.”

You’ve been listening to an interview with Leila Gmeiner, about the year she and Bernie went fishing. After the season was over, they moved to Whaletown, after which their story became intertwined with that of Cortes Island.



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