Fibrous nets, orca attacks, & millennia of maintenance

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach world history. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


I've been working on a bunch of stories set on islands, in marshes and involving boats, so I wanted to learn more about the history of fishing. Growing up on the Chesapeake Bay, I've done a lot of fishing, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a lot to learn!

Fun Facts

  • When fishing, head for driftwood and steep drop-offs, or just lay out some floating detritus. Fish like to hang out in the shadows.
  • The indigenous people of British Columbia made nets for fishing and catching birds out of "fireweed" and "stinging nettle" plant fibers.
  • Evidence of deep sea fishing dates as far back as 42,000 years ago.
  • Paleolithic peoples from Okinawa made fishhooks out of sea snail shells.
  • Although Mongolian lakes and rivers are full of fish, traditionally Mongols don't fish because it can't be done from horseback.

Fishing Dams

Around 4,000 years ago, the Khoisan of southern Africa built stone dams along the shoreline as a fishing technique. During high tide, seawater would flow into the areas behind the dams. Later, the water would filter out between the stones, and fish would get stranded in the pools behind the dams. This made them easy to catch. Coastal communities were still maintaining and using these structures into the 20th century. (Source)

Fish Thieves

Although whale attacks are rare, they do happen. Most of the time when a whale "attacks" a boat, it's because they were harassed or they accidentally bumped the ship while going up for air. The rest of the time, it's because they wanted to steal fish from a fisherman. Orcas, though, take it to the next level: sometimes 40+ orcas will swarm a fishing boat to strip it of its cargo.

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