Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Netting for Cod

Tools of the fishery, including a needle used for
net making (centre) (Photograph: Noah Morritt)

When I decided what I wanted to study in Keels, nets and net making seemed like a straightforward topic, but after some preliminary research I realized what I was in for: I was about to receive a crash course in the cod fishery. Net making, as I soon discovered, is a fundamental skill for any inshore fisherman in Keels, connecting the modern fishery with the traditions of the past. Although the hand knitted cotton nets and traps used before the mid-twentieth century have now been replaced with nylon twine and pre-made mesh, traditional net making techniques continue to play an important role in both the cod and lobster fisheries.

Lobster Traps in New Bonaventure, NL (Photograph: Noah Morritt)

In the past, fisherman would spend the off-season winter months knitting their nets from cotton twine purchased from local merchants. This was time consuming work, but the nets and cod traps they produced were the fundamental tools of the trade. This pattern of net making and repair during the winter is still very much part of the Keels fishery. Today, however, twine is made from nylon, and machine made mesh is cheap and widely available.
Net making and net repairs continue to remain an important part of off-season preparations, and these traditional skills are being applied to the modern fishery in interesting ways. With the decline of the cod and squid fisheries, catching lobster has become an important source of income. Local fisherman prefer to make their own traps rather than buying commercially made ones, and often build new ones as older traps become damaged. This process involves knitting the mesh to fit semi-circular frames made from local timber, and lining the openings in the netting. This continuity in net making skills demonstrates the resiliency of local fishing traditions, and how they have been adapted and incorporated into contemporary fishery.

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