Sunday, 17 June 2012


I had often wondered if 'seines',  the nets which have been used on the Estuary at least since the Middle Ages, took their name from, or shared an etymology with,the River Seine.   Eric Partridge is clear on this point:  "seine, a large fishing net, comes from Old English segne, Latin sagena... The River Seine is of a very different origin, for it derives,  like Italian Senna from the Latin Sequenna."  

There are local references to sagenae as long ago as the twelfth century.   No doubt they were very different to the seines we know today but the essential principle,  that they were nets to be taken in an arc in order to enclose the fish and then hauled in,  has remained the same

'Haknetts' were snaring devices.   They were  nets set in such a way that fish would tangle in them when the tides ebbed away.   Harold Fox records:  "Fixed nets are frequently referred to in the sources,  an early reference, from 1296,  being to a rent paid on Kenton manor for permission to 'fix up' nets on a mudbank in the Exe estuary."  This method of fishing was known as 'haking' in mediaeval Devon.  

The name, haking, has been said to derive from the 'hooking' of the nets to fixed poles but it seems to me it might just as well refer to the fish being hooked in the net because that's what would have happened.   It seems a delightfully easy way to catch fish.   I remember seeing models of fixed nets in the museum on the Ijssel Meer and wondering why nobody at home fished that way.   They were common on the old Zuider Zee.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Reverend John Swete observed what he called  'poles for fixing nets to take fish at high water' at Sidmouth.  So it would seem that there was a long tradition of 'haking' in these parts.  These days no one is haking and not too many are seineing.

No comments:

Post a Comment