While the earliest incarnations of trawling can be traced back to the 1700s, the earliest versions of seine fishing are depicted on Egyptian tombs from 5,000 years ago. With advances in net technology, sensors and haulers, there is nothing primitive in the way seiners operate today.
Barry Matthews comes from a purse seining family on Canada’s Campobello Island, just across the international bridge from Lubec, Maine.
“Ivan (Matthews) practically invented it,” says Matthews, who launched his boat, the Ocean Venture, six years ago and bought a powerful seine skiff built in Seattle.
Things have changed since Ivan’s day. “I buy twine in bales from another country,” says Matthews. “They come in 50-fathom sections, and we put them together. The biggest we use is 400 fathom, 200 meshes deep, about 60 fathom. They’re a lot bigger than what we used to use. Used to be 6 pounds per fathom, now it’s 20-25 per fathom. We’re using 3/4-inch cable.”
Matthews talks about the greater weight of the nylon seines he hauls aboard, but Menon “Gopa” Gopakumar, of the India-based fiber producer Garware Technical Fibres, is excited about new fibers for nets.
“The typical seine is made of twisted nylon, which is very strong. But when it gets wet, it gets heavier, so the more sets a captain makes, the heavier it gets.” Gopakumar points out that increasingly heavy twine makes handling it harder and also adds a safety concern regarding the reduced breaking strength of wet nylon — 10 percent — and the changes a waterlogged net can make to a vessel’s center of gravity.
“Polyethylene is lighter, and it doesn’t absorb water,” says Gopakumar. “But it floats. We have a fiber available called Plateena. It’s made from a DSM Dyneema, that is coated or impregnated with other material to help it sink. It’s thinner and stronger than nylon. It’s actually been around a while, but it costs three to four times as much as nylon.”
According to Gopakumar, new fibers can drastically reduce the weight of seines.
“We sell to the menhaden seiners, Omega Protein,” adds Gopakumar. “And we are selling to the seine makers in Seattle, like LFS.”
Matthews is sticking with nylon for now, but he is taking advantage of new electronics.