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Historical Materials: Maritime & Other Industries & Facilities
Gill netting is a fishing method wherein a fish swims into a net, entangling its gill covers in the mesh and is thus unable to free itself. This method works especially well with smaller species (mackerel and herring) which swim in large schools near the surface and are caught in large numbers. Gill nets with larger mesh sizes have caught larger species, such as cod, but under special situations and with nets set at various depths. These nets came to the fisheries in the 1870s, the nets of Lane's time being set on the surface with wooden floats on their surface edges and weights on their bottom edges.
Lane's depiction of gill netting in Gloucester Harbor in the foreground ofcould be for either mackerel or herring. A yawl boat (with sail) and a wherry are working with two separate nets which will probably be connected when the wherry has completed setting the one at left. The second net was probably set after the size and direction of the school was determined.
Gill netting in Ipswich Bay was done on a larger scale, using larger nets and larger boats. It was usual practice to leave the nets set overnight, hauling them at midnight and again in the morning. Night haulings involved the use of torches, whose light was a strong attraction to the fish and could significantly improve the catch. Ipswich Bay was lit up over much of its expanse by these lights on a busy summer night.
– Erik Ronnberg