Technic of Drifting

Drift netting was the method used to catch the herring, by controlling the size of the mesh, the smaller fish passed through the mesh, only catching the larger fish. By the end of the fifteenth century the Dutch were using drift netting. Manfares and flews are a type of netting used in mediaval times and their depth was measured in scores of meshes. The herring lie on the seabed during the day and rise towards the surface at dusk to feed on their diet of  plankton. It was at this time that the driftermen caught herrings in the thousands.

The Dutch boats could hold a crew of ten to fifteen and store between 35 to 100 lasts, the last being 12,000 fish, later it developed into 13,200. The nets were made of hemp or flax and the lint was the amount of meshes used in a net. To use the lint it was attached to a frame of hemp cord so it hung square in the water. The sides of the nets were then laced together to form a fleet. The fleet was then attached to the warrope which was a long thick cable, this in turn was suspended from wooden casks or bowls to keep the fleet afloat.

Later the Scotch herring net was used, this was about 35 yards long and 12 yards deep.

scotch nets
Scotch Fishing Net

Drifter took two strops a three fathom and a two fathom, if the drifter skipper shot his nets when using a three fathom strop found the herring were near the top he could fit the two fathom strop to adjust the net nearer to the surface, the seizing was four fathom long. The warp was 91 or 97 nets long (a net being 35 yards in length).

Shootin the nets from the hold was helped by a roller, and the capstan helped pull in the nets, but most of the work relied on the men who had to be hardy and fit.

Hauling in the Catch

Hauling in the nets was a very strenuous and laboureous job, a buff was marked five nets from the end to give the fishermen an idea of when the end of the fleet was near. Sonar was used after the World War Two to detect the shoals of herring but before this the skipper had to know the habits of the herring and weather really well to make a living and survive. As you can see the crew did not wear any lifejackets, one slip and they would go over and with all the working gear on, would drown.


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