Fishing is the activity of hunting for fish. By extension, the term fishing is also applied to hunting for other aquatic animals such as various types of shellfish as well as squid, octopus, turtles, frogs and some edible marine invertebrates. The term fishing is not usually applied to the hunting of aquatic mammals such as whales. Fishing is an ancient and worldwide practice with various techniques and traditions and it has been transformed by modern technological developments. It has even became a sport of some account.
Fishing in antiquity
“Fishing” is a very ancient practice that dates back at least to the Mesolithic period which began about 10,000 years ago. Archaeological features such as shell middens, discarded fish bones and cave paintings show that sea foods were important for survival and consumed in significant quantities. During this period, most people lived a hunter-gather lifestyle and were, of necessity, constantly on the move. However, where there are early examples of permanent settlements (though not necessarily permanently occupied) such as those at Lepenski Vir, they are almost always associated with fishing as a major source of food.
The Neolithic culture and technology spread worldwide between 4,000 and 8,000 years ago. With the new technologies of farming and pottery came basic forms of all the main fishing methods that are still used today.
Fishing may even pre-date the development of modern humans. The aquatic ape hypothesis, a controversial proposal, suggests that the ancestors of modern humans went through one or more periods of time living in a semi-aquatic setting and gathered most of their food from shallow coastal or other waters before their descendants returned to a more land-based existence.
The ancient river Nile was full of fish; fresh and dried fish were a staple food for much of the population. The Egyptians invented various implements and methods for fishing and these are clearly illustrated in tomb scenes, drawings, and papyrus documents. Simple reed boats served for fishing. Woven nets, weir baskets made from willow branches, harpoons and hook and line (the hooks having a length of between eight millimetres and eighteen centimetres) were all being used. By the 12th dynasty, metal hooks with barbs were being used. As is fairly common today, the fish were clubbed to death after capture. Nile perch, catfish and eels were among the most important fish. Some representations hint at fishing being pursued as a pastime.
Fishing scenes are rarely represented in ancient Greek culture, a reflection of the low social status of fishing. There is a wine cup, dating from 510–500 BC, that shows a boy crouched on a rock with a fishing-rod in his right hand and a basket in his left. In the water below, a rounded object of the same material with an opening on the top. This has been identified as a fish-cage used for keeping live fish, or as a fish-trap. It is clearly not a net. This object is currently in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Pictorial evidence of Roman fishing comes from mosaics which show fishing from boats with rod and line as well as nets. Various species such as conger, lobster, sea urchin, octopus and cuttlefish are illustrated. In a parody of fishing, a type of gladiator called retiarius was armed with a trident and a casting-net. He would fight against the murmillo, who carried a short sword and a helmet with the image of a fish on the front.
The Greco-Roman sea god Neptune is depicted as wielding a fishing trident.
There are numerous references to fishing in ancient literature; in most cases, however, the descriptions of nets and fishing-gear do not go into detail, and the equipment is described in general terms. An early example from the Bible in Job 41:7: Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish spears?.
The Greek historian Polybius (ca 203 BC-120 BC), in his Histories, describes hunting for swordfish by using a harpoon with a barbed and detachable head.
Oppian of Corycus, a Greek author wrote a major treatise on sea fishing, the Halieulica or Halieutika, composed between 177 and 180. This is the earliest such work to have survived intact to the modern day. Oppian describes various means of fishing including the use of nets cast from boats, scoop nets held open by a hoop, spears and tridents, and various traps “which work while their masters sleep”. Oppian’s description of fishing with a “motionless” net is also very interesting:
- 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 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.
From ancient representations and literature it is clear that fishing boats were typically small, lacking a mast or sail, and were only used close to the shore.
In traditional Chinese history, history begins with three semi-mystical and legendary individuals who taught the Chinese the arts of civilization around 2800–2600 BC: of these Fu Hsi was reputed to be the inventor of writing, hunting, trapping, and fishing.
Fishing is a widely used as a metaphor though as such it is possibly ambiguous. On the one hand, fishing with a net has nuances of gathering by honest effort. For example, in the New Testament, Jesus is reported to have said to his disciples: Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Matthew 4:19.
On the other hand, fishing with bait or lure sometimes has nuances of catching by deception, possibly with an implication of greed on the part of the victim. For example, the expression “fishing expedition” (usually used to describe a line of questioning), describes a case where the questioner implies that he knows more than he actually does in order to trick the target into divulging more information than he wishes to reveal. Other examples of fishing terms that carry a negative connotation are: “fishing for compliments”, “to be fooled hook, line and sinker” (to be fooled beyond merely “taking the bait”), and the internet scam of Phishing.
Chinese fishing nets
Environmental effects of fishing
Fishing light attractor
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