History of Fishing Nets

Humans have been using fishing nets since the prehistoric ages. The oldest fishing net known to man is the net of Antrea which is estimated to have been created around 8300 BC, making it almost 10,000 years old today. This net crafted from willow was found on the Karelian town of Antrea along with other prehistoric fishing equipment. The remains of another prehistoric fishing net were discovered at the bottom of a former sea, and is said to be from the late Mesolithic period (the Middle Stone Age that dates around 7000-4000 BC). The Rock art of Atla, dating from 4200-500 BC, features carved illustrations of rows of horizontal and vertical lines which are interpreted by some to be fishing nets. American Native Indians living by the Columbia River used spruce root fibres and wild grass to construct seine nets. They used stones as anchors and cedar sticks as floats, moving them in such a way that they scared the fish and kept them clustered together as a group. Pre-European Maori also utilised seine nets to fish. Their nets were made of green flax, stone weights and wood or gourd floats, and could span over a thousand metres in length, requiring large canoes and hundreds of men to pull it in.

Fishing nets have been well documented throughout history. They can be spotted in Egyptian tomb paintings that date back to 3000 BC. Ovid, a Roman poet who lived in the from 43 BC to 17/18 AD, mentioned fishing nets numerous times in his literary works. Mosaics dating back to the Roman Empire depict Roman fishing with nets. During the Roman Empire, there was a type of gladiator called retiarius who equipped themselves with a trident and cast net, in a kind of parody of fishing. They fought against secutors and the murmillo, another type of gladiator who was armed with a short gladius and a helmet decorated with the image of a fish. In the second century AD, Oppian, a Greco-Roman poet, wrote a didactic poem called the ‘Halieutica’ regarding the topic of fishing. In his poem, he wrote about many different methods of fishing and how they work. The following paragraph is how he described fishing with a “motionless” net:

“The fishers set up very light nets of buoyant flax and wheel in a circle round about while they violently strike the surface of the sea with their oars and make a din with a sweeping blow of poles. At the flashing of the swift oars and the noise the fish bound in terror and rush into the bosom of the net which stands at rest, thinking it to be a shelter: foolish fishes which, frightened by a noise, enter the gates of doom. Then the fishers on either side hasten with the ropes to draw the net ashore.”

Rán, a sea goddess in Norse mythology, is said to trap sailors lost at sea with her fishing net and pull them down into the depths of the ocean. Even the New Testament (the second part of the Christian bible) makes multiple references to fishing nets. It is said that Jesus Christ was an expert at using fishing nets. Native Americans and people who settled in the Midwest used the solid inner bark of the pawpaw tree (otherwise known as the Asimina triloba) to create ropes and fishing nets. Among the ruins of León Viejo (a historic city in Nicaragua dating back to the 16th century) are artefacts that used to be part of fishing nets, such as ceramic weights.

Over the millennia, there has not been much change in the structure of fishing nets. Many of the fishing nets we use today still considerably resemble the fishing nets that prehistoric humans initially used back in the Neolithic times (10,200-2000 BC). Though the general look and function of fishing nets has not changed, the materials used to construct the fishing lines have been swapped for thinner, stronger and more durable threads in modern-day nets. Remnants of a “two-ply laid rope of about 7 mm diameter” dating back to around 15,000 BC was found in Lascaux, a complex of caves in France that is best known for its wall paintings are said to have been created around 17,000 BC. Most Egyptian ropes back in 4000-3500 BC consisted of water reed fibres, and other old ropes were found to be woven from the fibres of date palms, flax, grass, papyrus, leather, or animal hair. China used ropes that were made of hemp fibres from around 2800 BC.

Types of Fishing Nets

Bottom Trawl
Target fish: Demersal fish such as groundfish, cod, squid, halibut and rockfish.
A trawl (a big net in the shape of a cone) is dragged across the bottom of the sea.
The boats that pull the nets are called trawlers or draggers.

Cast net
Target fish: Schooling and other small fish.
Cast nets are also known as throw nets.
Large cast nets can span across four metres in diameter.
A cast net is cast out and hauled in by hand when the small weights on its perimeter sink to the sand and trap fish within it.

Coracle net fishing
Target fish: –
Coracle fishing is performed by a pair.
Each person holds one end of the net and sits in their respective coracles.
When a fish gets trapped within the net, they will pull up their respective ends of the net and gather their coracles to safely catch the fish.

Target fish: –
Dragnet is a broad term that can be applied to any fishing net that is dragged across the sea or lake floor.
The depth of this type of fishing can be varied based on the heaviness of the weights attached to the net.

Drift net
Target fish: –
A drift net is a net that floats along with the water currents and does not stay on a fixed spot.
It is widely used on coasts, and is banned from being used in deep seas.

Drive-in net
Target fish: –
A drive-in net is a net that is put up at a fixed location, and is typically used by fishermen in South Asia and Japan.
It is used to catch schools of fish such as fusiliers and other types of reef fish.
It is employed by laying the front of the net on the seafloor, and waiting for a school of fish to swim right into it or driving fish into the net by causing a commotion in the water. When the fish are in the net, the front of the net is lifted to secure them.

Fixed gillnet (on stakes)
Target fish: –
A fixed gillnet consists of a long net that is stretched across stakes that are driven into the ground of rivers or seas.
It works by trapping and catching the fish.
It is typically used in shallow intertidal zones.

Fyke net
Target fish: Eels.
Fyke nets are shaped like bags with a large hoop at the opening.
They can be connected to form long chains that can consist of hundreds of nets.

Target fish: Sardines, salmon, cod.
A gillnet traps fish by snagging on their gill covers. When the fish is trapped, it is unable to move either forward or backward.
The gillnet system comprises of the net, floats as well as weights that are anchored to the sea floor.

Ghost net
Target fish: –
Ghost nets are nets that don’t belong to anyone anymore and are simply drifting about in the ocean.
They pose a threat to all sea creatures.

Hand net
Target fish: –
Hand nets are also known as scoop nets or dip nets.
It consists of a net shaped like a bag connected to a hoop for an opening that is attached to either a long or short stick for a handle.
Hand nets have been used since a long time ago, and is typically used to scoop up fish traversing near the surface of the water.
It is the only legal method of catching eels in England.

Landing net
Target fish: –
A landing net is a big net that is used to lift up trapped fish by hand.
It is most typically used in angling and fly fishing to catch fish that are considerably bulky.

Lave net
Target fish: –
A lave net is a larger version of the hand net, used to catch larger fish such as sturgeon in it.
The fisherman puts the net in the water and waits for a fish to come swimming right into it, before lifting the net and effectively trapping the fish.

Lift net
Target fish: –
A lift net is a large net with an upward-facing opening.
It is lowered into the water to whatever depth the fisherman desires before being lifted up to secure the fish that have swam into it.
The lift net can be lifted manually or using a machine.

Midwater trawl
Target fish: Pelagic fish such as anchovies, shrimp, tuna and mackerel.
A midwater trawl is a conical net that is held open by trawl doors and dragged along in the waters by a boat (or two).

Plankton net
Target fish: Plankton.
Plankton nets have a fine mesh that allows plankton to be trapped in it when seawater is filtered through the net.

Purse seine
Target fish: Schooling fish.
The purse seine is most typically used to catch fish commercially.
It is an evolved version of the surround net; A big net is used to corner the fish (or an entire school of fish) and a string that acts like a drawstring is then pulled to secure the fish within the net.

Push net
Target fish: Shrimp.
A push net is a small net shaped like a triangle with a solid frame.
It is dragged along the seafloor to trap shrimps and small fish.

Seine net
Target fish: –
There are four different methods of fishing with a seine net: purse seine, beach seine, Danish seine and wade netting.
Beach seine is when the seine net is used from the shore.
Danish seine is a method that largely resembles trawling.
Wade netting a method of fishing whereby one end of the net is made to stay at a fixed location while the fisherman wades out and wades back in again to secure the net at the fixed end and trap the fish that have swum into it.

Shore-operated lift net
Target fish: Pelagic species.
A shore-operated lift net is a large net that is operated from shore.
The net is lowered into the water horizontally and raised out of the water to secure the trapped fish.
Baits or other items used to attract fish may be put within the net.
This method of fishing is used all across the globe, but is dubbed as “Chinese fishing net” in India.

Surrounding net
Target fish: –
A surrounding net corners fish and traps them by cutting off any escape routes.

Tangle net
Target fish: –
Tangle nets are also called tooth nets.
Similar to the gillnet, it traps fish by snagging on a part of their body: their teeth or upper jaw bone.
It has a smaller mesh size compared to the gillnet.

Target fish: –
A trammel consists of three layers of nets that are used to trap fish: a fine-meshed centre layer between two nets with a larger mesh.
The net is kept vertical due to the floats lining the top of the net and the weights that are pulling down on the bottom.