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Fish craft


When our ancestors began to hunt for food, the most readily available source was fish. And thus began the art of fishing.

The first tool to catch fish was hand. People caught fish with their bare hands without any equipment! Then slowly, they started using pieces of bone as hooks (or gorge) and lengths of vine as line. With the advent of metals, metal hook was one of the first tools made. It was attached to a handline of animal or vegetable material, which was in turn attached to a rod (at first probably a stick or tree branch). For thousands of years, this fishing rod remained short, not more than a few feet in length. Fishing slowly came to be known as Angling. Many of these techniques still remain in use (even hand fishing!). Let us catch a glimpse of some of these...

     Hand fishing     

Catching fish with most minimal equipment: the hands.

  • Catching catfish by hand is known as Noodling, and catching trout is called Trout Tickling.
  • Trout binning is performed with a sledgehammer.
  • Lobsters are often caught by hand.
  • Pearl diving is the practice of hunting for oysters.
  • Hand-line fishing is a technique requiring a fishing line with a weight and one or more lure-like hooks.

     Spear and bow fishing    

Spear fishing is an ancient method of fishing using either ordinary spears or its specialised variants such as an Eel spear or the trident. Bow fishers use bow and arrow to kill fish in shallow water from above. Traditionally, it was limited to shallow waters, but the development of the Speargun has made it more efficient.

    Fishing nets    

All fishing nets are meshes made by knotting a relatively thin thread. Modern nets are usually made of artificial polyamides like nylon, and nets of organic polyamides such as wool or silk thread exist in certain areas. There are various ways of using fishing nets.

  • A net used to aid in landing a captured fish is known as a landing net.
  • A casting net is circular with a weighted periphery. When the net is thrown, it sinks, and the fish are caught as the net is hauled back in.
  • Coracle fishing requires two people. When a fish is caught, each hauls up his end of the net to bring together the two coracles and the fish is then secured.
  • Chinese fishing nets (Cheena vala) are an example of shore operated lift nets (also found in India).
  • A seine is a large fishing net that may be arranged in a number of different ways.
  • Trawling involves pulling the net through the water behind one or more boats.
  • A gillnet catches fish which try to pass through it by snagging on the gill covers.


Dredges are used to collect scallops or oysters from the seabed. They have the form of a scoop made of chain mesh called dredges that are towed by a fishing boat.

    Fishing lines   

Fishing lines catch fish by luring it to bite upon a fishhook or a gorge. Gaff, Trolling, Long-line fishing, Snagging, Kite fishing, and Ice fishing (used by Inuits) are techniques of using fishing lines.

    Fish traps/Trap Nets    

There are essentially two types of trap: permanent or semi-permanent structure placed in a river or tidal area, and pot-traps that are baited to attract prey and periodically lifted. Dam fishing involves the construction of a temporary dam to reduce the water levels downstream – allowing fish to be easily collected. In ancient times, large fishing weirs, constructed from wood posts and wattle fences, directed fish towards fish traps or nets. Basket weirs were also used then. Pot traps are typically used to catch crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters and crayfish. These are boxes have convoluted entrance that makes the entry of the catch easy, and exit difficult.

   Trained animals    

Animals have long been trained and used to help in fishing. Many people still use them.

  • In China and Japan, fisherfolk use cormorants to catch fish. It is known as Cormorant fishing. A metal ring placed round the bird's neck prevents large fish from being swallowed. Trained frigatebirds are used by the people of Nauru to fish on reefs.
  • Remora, a sucking fish, is tied to a fishing line and used to capture sea turtles.
  • Portuguese Water Dogs (dating from the 1500s in Portugal) and, Labrador Retrievers have been used by fisherfolks to assist in fishing.

     Toxins and explosives     

This is one of the most harmful ways of fishing.

  • Many hunter-gatherers use poisonous plants to “stun” fish so that they become easy to collect by hand. Some of these poisons paralyse the fish, and others remove oxygen from the water.
  • Cyanides are used to capture live fish near coral reefs for the aquarium and seafood market. Though illegal, it still functions in some parts of the world.
  • Dynamite or blast fishing uses dynamite or homemade bombs (made easily from locally available materials) to kill the fish by the shock. Then they are skimmed from the surface or collected from the bottom. It is also illegal in many waterways around the world.
  • Electrofishing is a relatively new technique. High voltage or long pulses with short rests cause muscular contractions in fish (called Galvanonarcosis), or unconsciousness. It is banned due to the risk to the divers, but is used to illegally catch Razorfish or Spoots using a boat based generator.

    Recreational fishing     

Recreational fishing or sport fishing describe fishing for pleasure or competition. But, it is not that simple. It has conventions, rules, licensing restrictions and laws that limit the way in which fish may be caught. For example, these prohibit the use of nets and catching fish with hooks not in the mouth.

  • Using rod, reel, line, hooks and any one of a wide range of baits is common.
  • Terminal tackles, such as weights, floats, and swivels, affect or compliment the presentation of the bait to the targeted fish. Lures are frequently used in place of bait.
  • Kayak fishing, and ‘catch and release’ have become very popular.
  • Fishing competitions (tournaments) where fishermen compete for prizes based on the total weight of a given species of fish caught within a predetermined time is also very common these days.
  • Big-game fishing is done from boats to catch large open-water species like tuna, sharks and marlin.

     Commercial fishing    

Commercial fishing provides a large quantity of food to many countries around the world. Those who practice it as an industry pursue fish far into the ocean, and harvest almost all aquatic species. Fishing methods vary according to the region, the species being fished for, and the technology available to the fishermen. A commercial fishing enterprise may range from one fisherman with a small boat with hand-casting nets, to a huge fleet of trawlers processing tonnes of fish every day. ‘Pay to fish’ enterprises provide anglers with controlled access to stocked lakes, ponds or canals, which allows fishing outside the permitted seasons and quotas applied to public waters. Yes, there are ‘permitted seasons’ and quotas for fishing. These laws, rules and regulations monitor, control, and restrict commercial fishing. Many of these are combined with fishing allocation schemes (such as individual fishing quotas), and international treaties to limit the fishing effort and, sometimes, the capture efficiency.



The traditional fisherfolk in India used small and sparsely-equipped boats that could not traverse the deep, and hence the productivity was low. But, their professional capacity is to be admired. May it be the shark fishing of Poonthura in Kerela, or hook and line fishing by catamaran fisherfolk in Kanyakumari.

Slowly, the Arab influenced the construction of dugout canoes, catamarans came from Polynesia, and boat seine from Spain, and Portuguese introduced the shore seine. Finally, the government supported the move towards  mechanisation: mechanised fishing vessels or trawlers.

Now, India is the third largest fish producer in the world. Nearly 5.38 million people depend on fishing as their primary source of livelihood and another 0.8 (United Nations figure) million depend on it to supplement their incomes from agriculture.



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