Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pound Nets

A reader recently asked about pound nets. Some of you may remember the spirited conversation we had some time ago about the Ocracoke term "chicken pound." Off-islanders typically say "chicken yard" or "chicken pen." We use the word "pound" in the sense of an enclosure (cf. "dog pound"). Thus, a pound net is a special type of fish net arranged so as to direct fish into a pound where they become trapped, and later extracted by commercial fishermen.

The best description of pound net fishing I have found is posted on the wall of the Ocracoke Working Watermen's Exhibit:

The first recorded evidence of Pound Net Fishing dates to the late 1500s. English explorers tell of natives using rows of sticks to "impound" fish.

The Pound Net consists of three parts: a lead line, the heart and the pound. As a fish is swimming in the water it will encounter the lead line. The lead line will guide the fish to swim toward the tunnel, a passage into the pound. As the fish swims through the tunnel towards the pound the tunnel gets progressively narrower. Fish that don't enter the tunnel will swim into the heart. The heart takes advantage of the natural schooling tendency of the fish to lead them in a circle and back around to the entrance of the tunnel.

Pound net fishing is a traditional method that many islanders learned from their fathers and grandfathers. It is labor intensive but on Ocracoke many favor tradition over ease. Poles 25 feet or longer are made from gum or tupelo. PVC pipe is also used but the 20 foot lengths restrict the use to shallow areas. They are jetted into the bottom until the poles are secure. Since the nets are usually set in shallow areas the tops of the poles can be seen above the water.

Pound nets are not permanent. They are taken up seasonally, before storms and for maintenance. The nets are expensive and cost in the range of $10,000. Regular maintenance is critical to keep the nylon clean, free from sea growth and sediment build up.

Pound net fishing is environmentally friendly:

  • Fish are not harmed in the net as they can swim freely until the fishermen release them or they can swim back out along the lead line

  • Small fish can swim through the net holes of the lead line and the heart
  • To bring the catch aboard:

  • Boat slowly approaches the "pound" and unties then lowers the top edge of the net

  • Holding the top edge of the net, it is slowly pulled into the boat so fish gather into one spot. This is called "bunting the net."

  • The fish are brought into the boat by hand or a dip net.

  • The catch is "culled" to keep only the legal fish, the rest are put back in water.

    1. -------------------------------------------------------------
      Below is a photo of a model of a pound net made by Ocracoke native, Edward Carlson O'Neal. Click on the photo to view a larger image.

      Click here to read an article about pound net fishing that was published on the North Carolina Sea Grant web site:

      Click here to watch a YouTube video of pound net fishing on the Scuppernong River in North Carolina:

      Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is an article, with a number of photos, documenting the history of water cisterns on Ocracoke Island. Click on the following link to go directly there:

      1 comment:

      1. Anonymous1:34 PM

        Extremely interesting. Thank you.