The Fishnet and Fishing over the Ages
Be it working a deep-running river or a shallow lake, fishermen are rarely without a fishnet. This is hardly surprising. But since currents and prey vary, so do the fishnets. Over the millennia, this humble gear has undergone many changes, revolutionizing productivity and highlighting mankind’s stature vis- à- vis Nature.
Be it working a deep-running river or a shallow lake, fishermen are rarely without a fishnet. This is hardly surprising. But since currents and prey vary, so do the fishnets. Over the millennia, this humble gear has undergone many changes, revolutionizing productivity and highlighting mankind’s stature visà-vis Nature. Genesis of the Fishnet
In Greek mythology, Poseidon is the God of the Sea. Accompanied by dolphins and tuna, he typically grasps a trident, his hallmark. For this divinity, however, the trident was not simply a weapon. Even today, an item of fishing equipment widely employed by European fishermen — the fish spear — is also known as “Poseidon’s Trident.” For the Greeks and Romans, it is the fish spear that symbolizes fishing activity, not the fishnet; for them, catching fish with a net and other fishing techniques were secondary.
In China, however, the fishnet has long been the most important item of fishing gear. The invention of the fishnet has traditionally been attributed to Fuxi, China’s first emperor in prehistorical times. Legend has it that the netting he created was very strong and could be used not just to catch fish, but to capture birds and beasts too.
How could such a key piece of fishing equipment actually have come to be?
Among our ancestors who resided near waterways, a major skill for ensuring their livelihood was fishing. This was safer than chasing beasts of prey, but it was no easy task either. There were four primitive methods: striking, piercing, grabbing and clamping. “Striking” meant attacking fish with a branch or stone, making a catch by wounding it. “Piercing” was a way of killing a fish by spearing it, often by using a sharpened tree branch. “Grabbing” was done with the bare hand, while “clamping” was used to harvest shellfish. Since all four methods were essentially “manual,” we can imagine how poor productivity was.
At what time in history did fishermen begin to employ the fishnet? Ancient examples long ago decayed and perished, but fortunately there are extant images in which we can observe them. At a site in present- day Henan named Yangshao Village — after the Neolithic culture that existed there more than five thousand years ago — a boat-shaped and ceramic jug has been excavated, and even today a dark ocher painting of mesh is clearly visible on its two sides.
Early fishnets were simple and crude and netted small amounts of fish. These nets were equivalent to a small bag, but even so their catches were far and away superior to using a rock or pole to stun fish. It is not known exactly when, but eventually fishnets with sinkers appeared. The sinker was part of the net, located at its lower edges. They functioned to pull the netting rapidly sunk into the water, and also helped prevent fish from escaping once inside.
Based on archaeological discoveries, during the Neolithic Period that began 10,200 BC and ended sometime between 4,500 and 2,000 BC, a large number of net sinkers made of stone appeared, followed by ceramic ones, and after metallic sinkers, iron ones also became popular. More sophisticated sinkers even had notches that allowed rope to be tied more tightly around them, preventing a heavy sinker from slipping off the fishnet.
Via these tiny net sinkers, we have a snapshot of a sudden “boom” in fishing activities during the Neolithic Period. With the sinkers in place, casting the fishnet and hauling it in
The Wide Net The Pond Net