Chinese fishing nets

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The Chinese fishing nets of Fort Cochin, from Das Buch der Welt, Stuttgart, 1842-48

In India, Chinese fishing nets (Cheena vala) are fishing nets that are fixed land installations for fishing. While commonly known as "Chinese fishing nets" in India, the more formal name for such nets is "shore operated lift nets".[1] Huge mechanical contrivances hold out horizontal nets of 20 m or more across. Each structure is at least 10 m high and comprises a cantilever with an outstretched net suspended over the sea and large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights at the other end. Each installation is operated by a team of up to six fishermen. While such nets are used throughout coastal southern China and Indochina, in India they are mostly found in the Indian state of Kerala, where they have become a tourist attraction. The Indian common name arises because they are unusual in India and different from usual fishing nets in India.

The system is sufficiently balanced that the weight of a man walking along the main beam is sufficient to cause the net to descend into the sea. The net is left for a short time, possibly just a few minutes, before it is raised by pulling on ropes. The catch is usually modest: a few fish and crustaceans — these may be sold to passers by within minutes.

Rocks, each 30 cm or so in diameter are suspended from ropes of different lengths. As the net is raised, some of the rocks one-by-one come to rest on a platform thereby keeping everything in balance.

Each installation has a limited operating depth. Consequently, an individual net cannot be continually operated in tidal waters. Different installations will be operated depending on the state of the tide.

It was earlier thought that the nets might have been introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He.[2] Recent research shows that these were introduced by Portuguese Casado settlers from Macau[3]

The Chinese fishing nets have become a very popular tourist attraction, their size and elegant construction is photogenic and the slow rhythm of their operation is quite hypnotic. In addition, catches can be purchased individually and need be taken only a short distance to a street entrepreneur who will cook it.

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