Recent clients on one of our South Indian Tours spent a couple of nights in fort Cochin, Kerala. As with all tourists they spent time watching the Chinese fishing nets in use. These nets seem to be found only in China and Fort Cochin! It is thought that traders from the court of the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan introduced the nets here, but no-one is sure why they were set up along the coast here at Fort Cochin and Vypeen.
The nets are fixed to the shoreline and are operated from there by a massive cantilever. The structure is about 10 meters high and operated by five or six men. The individual length of the boom means that the net can only work in a specific depth of water so there are different sized structures to enable the fishermen to work in different depths of water in this tidal area.
Bamboo and teak poles hold the nets which have large rocks as counter-weights. A man will walk out along the arm of the mechanism and his weight is enough to lower it down into the water. The net is only left in the water for about four or five minutes before it is raised by the team of fishermen hauling on the ropes. The rocks, each about 30 cm in diameter, are suspended from ropes of different lengths so that as the net is raised they come to rest on the ground in sequence which keeps everything nicely balanced.
They nets rarely catch much – just a fish or two and maybe the odd crab or a few shrimps, but they can be lowered a great many times during the day which can lead to a sizeable catch. The fish are often sold immediately to local passers-by who take them home for dinner – or by tourists who will get their hotel to cook them – no need for a middle-man in the market here!
It is not difficult to see why these nets are such a tourist attraction. Large and elegant they line the shore like giant herons intent on fishing for their supper; their movemnet is strangely mesmeric and, along with the creaking of the rope and the splashing of the water, seems to wash away any stresses and cares. Under the cloudless sky, watching the sun reflecting from the water in a mryiad rays, seeing the fish, leap and turn so that the sun reflects off their scales in rainbow shades – what a wonderful way to spend some time!